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Does Preschool Education Do More Harm Than Good?

May 8, 2017

NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. discussed what research tells us about preschool programs, policies and outcomes for children with members of  55 Plus in Princeton.

Much attention has been given to findings from a recent study in Tennessee that children score worse on standardized tests by grade 3 if they had attended public pre-K at age 4.  As the research design is said to represent the gold standard and the preschool program to be of high quality, the results are at the very least troubling.

The Tennessee study follows a much publicized failure of Head Start to produce broad lasting gains in a national randomized trial and studies that find Quebec’s universal child care to have long-term negative impacts.

From this evidence should one conclude that public preschool education is at best a waste of money and at worst harming our children? Does a more comprehensive review of research lead to the same conclusion?  What, if anything, might be done to assure that public programs produce greater benefits than costs, particularly in New Jersey where more than a half billion dollars annually is spent on preschool education in the state’s lowest income communities?