Tennessee’s Pre-K May Have Long Term Benefits, After All

Credit Jason Austin via Flickr

Credit Jason Austin via Flickr

If the goal for pre-K is to give students a permanent academic advantage, researcher Mark Lipsey says it doesn’t hit the mark. He’s working on an ongoing study for Vanderbilt’s Peabody School. Its initial results echoed those of analysis the state commissioned several years ago: in terms of test scores, it seems any initial boost pre-K gives to at-risk students is gone by the end of Kindergarten. But as his team continues to collect and drill into data, Lipsey says it’s clear there’s more to measure than just test scores.

“We do have evidence from a few longitudinal studies that other good things follow from pre-K over the years, and we’re seeing what could be, I only say could be, early glimmers of that in Tennessee.”

For instance, kids who went to pre-K have slightly better attendance. And the numbers show a significant reduction in the number of students who have to repeat Kindergarten: 4% of children who went to pre-K are held back, compared to 8% of those who didn’t. Lipsey says that indicates teachers are seeing some kind of difference that the tests don’t catch.

As the study continues to follow students into the older grades, Lipsey says his team will see if there’s are other correlations. Specifically, they’re want to see if there’s any relation between that extra, initial year of school and things like graduation rates or how often students get into trouble.

Lipsey made his comments to the state Senate’s Education committee, whose members disagree about whether funding for pre-K classes is money well spent. In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced plans to create a Race To The Top style program for funding early childhood education.

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