Making the Benefits of Pre-K Last

June 25, 2018

Posted By
E3 Elevate Early Education  Click the link above to read the PBS News Hour report entitled, How Do You Make the Benefits of Pre-K Education Last?

teacher and kids with sand

A recent study from Vanderbilt University sparked debate in Tennessee and around the country about the benefits of pre-k.  The quality of early education and its’ long-term benefits are major issues in the 2018 Tennessee Governor’s Race. Recently, a JLARC report here in Virginia revealed, as the research in the June 19thPBS News Hour report points out, that quality and access vary across states, and even from one classroom to the next.

Dr. Mark Lipsey, a professor at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education, studied children in Tennessee’s voluntary pre-k program, which targets low-income families. The study suggests that the benefits of pre-k may not be long lasting. Lipsey is right, but the important fact that he misses, is that in order for the benefits to be long lasting, the programs must be high quality. Mediocre programs do not produce results for children. What Lipsey does not mention is that the study also showed that:

  • The program quality varies across the state.
  • The program model was not implemented with fidelity across programs.
  • The program was underfunded and inadequately monitored.

As we know from our work in The New E3 School, it takes a relentless focus on high quality to get results. The elements of high quality that lead to better outcomes for children include an effective curriculum that provides meaningful and engaging activities that are intentional in the areas of literacy, math, social skills and self-regulation. And, professional development and coaching for teachers that is aligned with the curriculum to help teachers improve interactions, teaching and learning in the classroom.

There is one thing that Lipsey and I agree upon, and that is more research is needed to understand why the benefits of some programs are not long lasting.  Is the preschool experience lacking or are some elementary schools failing to effectively build upon the foundations built in the early childhood classroom?

What the Vanderbilt study and other studies do provide is an opportunity to:

  • Think about program design and what is effective in helping children be prepared for academic success.
  • How to achieve results without being too regimented or “skill and drill” focused.
  • What is the impact of the K-3 experience?

It is time to think about early education in three phases:

  • What happens before preschool (the development of the child)?
  • What happens during preschool?
  • What happens in preschool through third grade?

And, it is time to make sure that all children who attend early childhood programs have access to high quality regardless of their zip codes.


Lisa Howard, President & CEO

Lisa Howard, President & CEO