Students who attend high-quality preschool programs reap benefits that can last through school and their lives, according to a review of research released by Learning Policy Institute.
The study includes reviews of rigorous evaluations of 21 large-scale public preschool programs which find that children who attend these programs are more prepared for school and experience substantial learning gains in comparison to children who do not attend preschool.
“The research suggests that the main issue is not whether preschool works but how to design and implement effective preschool programs that deliver on their promise,” LPI President Linda Darling-Hammond said in a statement.
Research on early learning programs in the 1960s and 1970s revealed that benefits for children lasted into adulthood, inspiring many states to invest in preschool programs. However, recent evaluations of two programs—Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program and Head Start—found mixed results, leaving policymakers and the public confused about whether investments in preschool programs actually do make a difference to student success.
LPI’s researchers found that investments in quality preschool programs bolster student success. Students who attend preschool programs are more prepared for school and are less likely to be identified as having special needs or to be held back in elementary school than children who did not attend preschool. Studies also show clear positive effects on children’s early literacy and mathematics skills.
The review affirms the short- and long-term benefits of many preschool programs and makes recommendations for how policymakers can implement and support high-quality programs.
Although these elements can be expensive, “when well-implemented and supported by subsequent schooling, high-quality preschool can pay for itself. Studies of high-quality programs that have followed students into adulthood find up to $17 returned in social benefits for every dollar invested.
“This is because people who attend preschool are more productive in school, work, and society generally—with higher levels of education and earnings, less involvement in delinquency and crime, and fewer chronic health problems,” said W. Steven Barnett, founder and senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. “Even when students are only followed into elementary school, studies find significant benefits from preschool in lower rates of grade retention and special education that offer a partial return on the investment. High-quality preschool programs can also help close the gap in school and life outcomes between those raised in low-income families and their wealthier peers.”