State-Run Pre-K Resulted in Worse Educational, Behavioral Outcomes for Kids

The Biden administration repeatedly emphasized the advantages of pre-kindergarten and universal preschool. A White House fact sheet states that these programs “are universal” in the words of its Pre-K and Kindergarten policies.It is crucial to ensure that kindergarten children have the support and skills they need in order to succeed at school. These are crucial, so President Joe Biden’s impending spending bill intends to dedicate “historic $200 billion investment” in America’s Future to expanding pre-K and preschool access. 

Biden has posted the benefits of new spending on Twitter, where he also promoted state-based partnerships. postDeclaring that Studies show that children learn best when they start school early. We’ll make high-quality preschool accessible to all children for two years.

Contrary to popular belief, the following recently published StudyA Tennessee state-run preschool program found no long-term educational benefits. In fact, sixth-graders who had attended it were performing lower on academic attainment and behavior metrics than their peers. Children enrolled in state-run prekindergarten appear to suffer completely negative outcomes.

Based on data from an experiment with nearly 3000 children across Tennessee, the new study findings were made based on these results. Some of the children selected were chosen randomly for Tennessee’s preK program. Others may have received home-based or Head Start care. Both groups of children were followed over years by researchers, which allowed them to monitor educational achievement and discipline issues. 

As public policy research goes, this sort of study design—randomized selection into a program plus years of follow-up on the same relatively large group of subjects—is about as high-quality as you’re likely to get. It is also the first study to be randomized and controlled on pre-K in states, which adds weight to these findings. These results are even more tragic. 

While the initial program was able to produce small improvements in academic achievement for pre-K students relative to peers who didn’t, it soon began to lose some of those gains and student performance showed a slight decline. 

Sixth grade saw a sharper difference: Students who attended pre-K scored lower on standardized exams, were more disciplined, and were more likely be sent to special education.

These results were not exaggerated by the authors of this study. Dale Farran from Vanderbilt University, who was involved in the research, said, “At minimum for poor children it turns out that nothing is better than something.” The Education News Organization was informed Hechinger ReportIn a report detailing the findings of the study.

Farran highlighted the negative effects that the pre-K system run by the government is doing to the poor, who are allegedly the main beneficiaries of such a program. Farran adds, “Farran says the…” Hechinger ReportStudy design must exclude any unique factors such as parental involvement or program quality as primary drivers for student performance. 

There is no perfect study. However, with large numbers of students, random assignments, repeat checks over long periods of time and strong evidence of causality, you can be sure that this study is able to determine whether student behavioral and academic problems are related to enrollment in pre-K.  

The results of these studies are also not unexpected. Sam Hammond from the Niskanen Center notesTwitter: Other studies have shown that pre-K has “lasting cognitive and noncognitive effects” on children. 

However, there was one group which seemed to have benefited: the teachers who are part of the program. According to the Hechinger ReportFarran writes in the article that Tennessee’s preK system provided retirement and health benefits along with salaries to match public school teachers. The program’s pay was quite generous when compared to other state-run preK programs. It is a common occurrence in education that a state program benefits children at the expense and of public employees. Biden’s proposal for a preschool program does not focus on financing this kind of pre-K. However, it will almost certainly be used to fund other failed and flawed programs such as this one.