Friday, November 08, 2019

Under what conditions do the benefits of preschool last? Christina Weiland and SOE students share longitudinal findings


Decades of research has shown that attending preschool improves kindergarten readiness and can have long-lasting benefits into adulthood. At the same time, studies have found that preschool non-attenders often partially or fully catch up to preschool attenders in their academic skills by third grade, raising questions about how best to sustain the preschool skill boost into elementary school.

In a set of recent papers, Dr. Christina Weiland and colleagues provided new evidence on the impacts of Boston Public School’s prekindergarten program through third grade and the school-level factors that promote a lasting boost. Summaries of these papers appeared both in the Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard series and in a Ford School Education Policy Initiative policy brief . The team’s research was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. The research team included Rebecca Unterman of MDRC and New York University professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa, as well as SOE doctoral candidates Anna Shapiro and Eleanor Martin and SOE alumna Shana Rochester.

To estimate whether prekindergarten enrollment caused lasting gains for students, the team used lotteries for oversubscribed Boston prekindergarten sites between 2007 and 2011. In these years, for some schools, more families applied to prekindergarten than the school had space for, so seats were awarded to applicants using a lottery. In all, about 25% of children whose families applied for a seat in the program were in a lottery (3,182 total). Overall, the lottery sample was more advantaged than the full Boston prekindergarten student population and almost all of the control group went to other preschool programs.

Results from this study are published in Child Development. The team found that students who won a seat to their preferred prekindergarten program were substantially more likely to persist in the Boston Public Schools than control group members. There were no differences in third grade test scores, grade retention, or special education placement between treatment and control group members from K—3. The team found, however, that gains from Boston prekindergarten persisted if kids applied to and won a seat in a high-quality elementary school, as defined by the school’s third-grade test scores, even when their counterparts (children who lost the lottery) enrolled in similar schools in kindergarten. 

The team writes about their findings, “To realize the full potential of attending a high-quality prekindergarten program, we have to take a hard look at what happens after prekindergarten.” They also highlight that, presently, there are no proven prekindergarten through third grade curriculum models in the U.S. In 2013, Boston began developing its own aligned prekindergarten through second grade curriculum. Weiland and team’s current findings highlight the importance of developing and testing such models.


Related papers by this research team include the following:
“When Do the Literacy Skills of Preschool Attenders and Non-Attenders Converge? Evidence from Boston”

“If You Offer It, Will They Come? Patterns of Application and Enrollment Behavior in a Universal Prekindergaren Context”

“The little kids down the hall: Associations between school climate, pre-k classroom quality, and pre-k children’s gains in receptive vocabulary and executive function”


Christina Weiland is Associate Professor, with Tenure

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