Brookings Institution: The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects

Brookings Institution

The question of how the U.S. will develop a citizenry with the skills necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century has attracted the attention of legislators, scientists, and educators. Answering this question leads inevitably to its roots: how well are we preparing young children to enter kindergarten ready to learn? Educators in k-12 school systems are faced with wide disparities in skill levels of entering kindergarteners, which means that all too many children are already far behind many of their peers. Findings in developmental science point toward the importance of early-life experiences in shaping brain development and suggest that if we knew how to provide these experiences in our early education programs, we could have a lifelong impact on children’s success….

The report begins with a concise description of the prekindergarten landscape in America today, authored by Ajay Chaudry and Rupa Ditta. A core group consisting of the four organizers (Dodge, Haskins, Lipsey, and Phillips) and five others (Daphna Bassok, Greg Duncan, Mark Dynarski, Katherine Magnuson, and Chris Weiland) took in all available information, reached consensus on the six major conclusions that form the basis for this report, and drafted the Consensus Statement summarizing the major findings. Subsequent topical chapters, commissioned and authored by individual scholars, offer insights to assist policymakers in reaching decisions and provide fodder for future scholarly inquiry.

NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. authored a chapter, “Challenges to Scaling Up Effective Pre-Kindergarten Programs,” of the Brookings Institution report.

“A significant concern for early education policy is how to ensure that scaled-up public programs produce the large gains in learning and development that have been found in the most widely cited small-scale studies of preschool programs, including the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian projects, and Chicago Parent-Child Centers…,” Dr. Barnett writes.

“The findings from the small-scale studies show that long-term positive impact is possible, but the sobering findings from some studies of scaled-up programs indicate that barriers must be overcome to reproduce the success of the initial programs.”

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