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

Last year, the Brookings Institute released a report, “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects,” which sought to answer the question: does a year of publicly-funded pre-kindergarten promote school readiness and longer-term educational and social achievement?

Researchers already know that the years before a child starts kindergarten is the period when children’s brains undergo the most rapid development; the types of stimulation children receive during this time can have major impacts on their intellectual and emotional development in later years.

Does pre-k support that development, especially for children who do not receive high levels of positive stimulation at home? Does pre-K lay the foundation for developing the skills that children will need in the global economy?

“Understanding the impact of pre-k programs is … an extremely complicated endeavor,” writes the Task Force that prepared the report. The pre-K landscape includes Head Start, child care centers and school-based programs of varying sizes, standards, and funding levels. The children themselves bring different skills and challenges to their programs, and move into different environments afterward that will either support or undermine any gains they make during pre-K.

Despite this complexity, the authors found six points of consensus:

  • Generally, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and dual language learners see more benefit than more advantaged and English-proficient children.
  • Pre-K programs are not all equally effective; factors supporting success include well implemented curricula and coaching for teachers.
  • The benefits of pre-k depend not only on the pre-k experience itself, but on the quality of children’s learning experiences in subsequent years.
  • Children who attend pre-K programs generally are more ready for school at the end of their pre-k year than children who do not attend pre-k, particularly with regard to improved literacy and numeracy.
  • Nonetheless, the evidence on the longer-term impacts of scaled-up pre-K programs on academic outcomes and school progress is sparse, which precludes drawing broad conclusions about the programs’ effectiveness
  • States have shown considerable ingenuity in designing and implementing their pre-K programs; the program staff and researchers can work together on innovation and evaluation to generate more evidence and to understand what will have the strongest long-term impacts.

We will expand on the Task Force’s findings in subsequent posts, but you can find the consensus statement and the full report.

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