Fall is coming and it’s going to be a busy season for early education and care advocates. There’ll be hearings on important legislation and the crucial work of drafting the budget for fiscal year 2017.
To make the advocacy case, try this useful tool: the 2013 policy brief “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education.”
As we blogged earlier this week, the brief is a “review of the current science and evidence base on early childhood education.” Yesterday, we looked at the impact on children’s academic skills and on their socio-emotional development.
In today’s blog, we’ll look at what the brief says about early education’s quality, its long-term outcomes, and its effect on diverse subgroups.
“Children show larger gains in higher-quality preschool programs,” the brief says, summing up the research. “Higher-quality preschool programs have larger impacts on children’s development while children are enrolled in the program and are more likely to create gains that are sustained after the child leaves preschool.”
“The most important aspects of quality in preschool education are stimulating and supportive interactions between teachers and children and effective use of curricula.”
“For example, smaller group sizes and better ratios of staff to children provide the right kind of setting for children to experience more positive interactions. But these conditions by themselves are not enough. Teacher qualifications such as higher educational attainment and background, certification in early childhood, or higher than average compensation for the field are features of many early education programs that have had strong effects.”
“To promote stronger outcomes, preschool programs should be characterized by both structural features of quality and ongoing supports to teachers to assure that the immediate experiences of children, those provided through activities and interactions, are rich in content and stimulation, while also being emotionally supportive.”
Quality, however, varies across the country, and is not generally very high.
“Both longstanding and more recent research reveal that the average overall quality of preschool programs is squarely in the middle range of established measures. In large-scale studies of public prekindergarten, for example, only a minority of programs are observed to provide excellent quality; a comparable minority of programs are observed to provide poor quality.”
One promising route to quality? “Developmentally focused, intensive curricula with integrated, in-classroom professional development.”
“More recent evidence tells us a great deal about what works in early education and how early education might be improved. The combination of evidence-based curricula and in-classroom coaching is particularly promising and has been implemented at scale with large positive effects on children.”
“Over the course of elementary school, scores for children who have and have not attended preschool typically converge. Despite this convergence, there is some evidence of effects on outcomes in early adulthood,” the brief says.
The brief elaborates, explaining:
“As children from low-income families in preschool evaluation studies are followed into elementary school, differences between those who received preschool and those who did not on tests of academic achievement are reduced. However, evidence from long-term evaluations of both small-scale, intensive interventions and Head Start suggest that there are long-term effects on important societal outcomes such as high-school graduation, years of education completed, earnings, and reduced crime and teen pregnancy, even after test-score effects decline to zero. Research is now underway focusing on why these long-term effects occur even when test scores converge.”
Timothy Bartik details the long-term wage impact of high-quality programs in his book, “From Preschool to Prosperity: The Economic Payoff to Early Childhood Education.”
Impacts on Diverse Groups of Children
“Quality preschool education can benefit middle-class children as well as disadvantaged children; typically developing children as well as children with special needs; and dual language learners as well as native speakers,” the brief says.
“Although early research focused only on programs for low-income children, more recent research focusing on universal preschool programs provides the opportunity to ask if preschool can benefit children from middle-income as well as low-income families. The evidence is clear that middle-class children can benefit substantially, and that benefits outweigh costs for children from middle-income as well as those from low-income families. However, children from low-income backgrounds benefit more.”
“Overall, the current research evidence suggests that children of different racial/ethnic groups benefit from preschool.”
For example: “The Tulsa study found substantial improvements in school readiness for prekindergarten participants from all racial and ethnic groups. Effect sizes were moderate to large for all racial and ethnic groups studied (White, Black, Hispanic, Native American) but especially large for Hispanics.”
And in Boston, there were “substantial benefits in language, literacy, mathematics, and executive functioning domains for children from all racial and ethnic groups. Effect sizes were especially large for Hispanics and for Asian Americans, though the sample size for Asian Americans was relatively small.”
Making the Case
To engage parents, policymakers, and the public, please share this evidence about the power of early education and care. It’s true that these programs are fun, heart-warming, and engaging. But they’re also backed by solid research and have important long-term benefits for children and society at large.
As the brief explains, “Quality preschool education is a profitable investment. Rigorous efforts to estimate whether the economic benefits of early childhood education outweigh the costs of providing these educational opportunities indicate that they are a wise financial investment.”
And last year, the headline of one of New America’s EdCentral blogs made the point by asking this question: “We Can Scale High-Quality Public Pre-K—Can We Scale Effective Legislating?”
Ask your policymakers and legislators to help prove that we can.