Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 11:30am

Deborah A. PhillipsMark W. LipseyKenneth A. DodgeRon HaskinsDaphna BassokMargaret R. BurchinalGreg J. DuncanMark DynarskiKatherine A. Magnuson, and Christina Weiland

Brookings and Duke Univeristy

Scientific research has established that if all children are to achieve their developmental potential, it is important to lay the foundation during the earliest years for lifelong health, learning, and positive behavior. A central question is how well our public pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs are doing to build this foundation.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia, through 57 pre-K programs, have introduced substantial innovations in their early education systems by developing the infrastructure, program sites, and workforce required to accommodate pre-K education. These programs now serve nearly 30 percent of the nation’s 4-year-olds and 5 percent of 3-year-olds.

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in assessing how well these short- and long-term goals have been achieved. What should we expect pre-K to produce for our society? How can we ensure that children who attend these programs get as much out of them as they can?

In “Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects” (PDF), a task force comprised of social scientists from Brookings and Duke University lists six consensus statements on what we know about the effects of pre-K and highlights the importance of gathering further evidence to answer three important questions: What features of pre-K programs, specifically, put children on a positive developmental trajectory? What’s the best way to scale up small pre-K programs to a school-district or state-wide level? How can we use evaluations of an earlier generation of programs to guide the development of today’s pre-K programs? The consensus statement is part of a broader report titled “The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects” (PDF).