Long-Awaited Vanderbilt Pre-K Study Finds Benefits Lacking

Sep 28, 2015

A five-year study conducted on Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program is leaving researchers scratching their heads.

Vanderbilt Peabody College professors followed a thousand students from pre-K through third grade and compared them to a control group who skipped pre-K. All of the students are considered economically disadvantaged.

Not only did students who missed pre-K catch up within a year or two. But researchers found, on the whole, students who attended pre-K fell behind their peers by the time they finished third grade.

“We’re pretty stunned looking at these data and have a lot of questions about what might be going on in the later grades that doesn’t seem to be maintaining, if not accelerating, the positive gains, professor Mark Lipsey, director of the Peabody Research Institute, said in a statement.

This study was highly anticipated by policy makers. Gov. Bill Haslam has said he was waiting for the results before deciding whether to expand pre-K in Tennessee. 

A previous study done by the Tennessee Comptroller found similar results, showing that the benefits of pre-K wear off by third grade, leading some early childhood learning advocates to suggest the study was flawed.

Still, researchers say pre-K cannot be "entirely dismissed" on the basis of the Vanderbilt study.

“Pre-K is a good start, but without a more coherent vision and consistent implementation of that vision, we cannot realistically expect dramatic effects,” co-investigator Dale Farran said. “Too much has been promised from one year of preschool intervention without the attention needed to the quality of experiences children have and what happens to them in K-12."

This is a developing story that will be updated. View the full study results here.