The Case for Pre-K in Education Reform

A Summary of Program Evaluation Findings


Quick Summary

For state and federal officials seeking to improve school performance, 50 years of evidence shows that high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten is among the best strategies for education reform.

This brief from Pew's Pre-K Now initiative highlighted findings from evaluations of state-funded Pre-K programs that continue to document gains in key measures of student learning, including early literacy, math and vocabulary; reduced need for special and remedial education; and significantly lower incidences of grade retention. This and other ongoing research once again demonstrates that high-quality early education is the natural first step in effective school reform.

The short- and long-term benefits of high quality pre-kindergarten have been well documented by researchers for the last 50 years. By now, even many outside the education field have heard about the academic and lifetime gains and the significant returns on investment yielded from the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers. What many may not be aware of, however, is that a vast and emerging body of research continues to demonstrate the potential of publicly funded, large-scale pre-k programs as a strategy for school reform and turning around a record of underachievement.

For instance, two more recent survey studies looked back at decades of early education data to capture and synthesize the body of research on pre-k efficacy. One review, published in 2000, examined 13 evaluations of state pre-k programs
and found that they generally led to significant cognitive and social development among children, higher performance on achievement tests in the early grades and in some cases, reduced retention rates, producing substantial cost savings for
school systems. Similarly, a 2010 analysis of 123 evaluations determined that pre-k programs “provide a real and enduring benefit to children,” which persists beyond the early elementary years.

Together with those studies featured in this brief, these results show that high-quality pre-k is an essential part of each state and the nation's efforts to improve publicly funded education as a means to have a more productive, competitive workforce for the 21st century.