Guest column | Pre-K benefits are only short term

It was ironic that Deb Hanney from WACOG wrote a glowing report for the Daily Miner, outlining the many positive benefits that children receive from attending Head Start prior to attending dindergarten.

The problem for Hanney is that the day before, on Aug. 2, the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from a study examining a publicly-funded Tennessee voluntary pre-K program. The study had been published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, and the Tennessee pre-K study arrived at results very different from those Hanney stated.

Yes, there were short-term benefits in that the pre-kindergartners made better gains early in the school year than those students who had not attended a pre-K program, and the pre-K students were better prepared for kindergarten work and expected behavior.

However, to quote the excerpt, the positive effects “on achievement largely disappeared by the end of kindergarten with children in the control group catching up to the (pre-K) participants. Moreover, by second grade, the performance of the control children surpassed that of the (pre-K) participants on some achievement measures. This pattern was echoed on the third-grade state achievement tests ... (Pre-K) participants scored lower on the reading, math, and science tests than the control children with differences that were statistically significant for math and science ...”

In other words, by the end of the third grade, all benefits from the publicly-funded pre-K program were gone.

Lastly, this Wall Street Journal excerpt also states that “the Head Start Impact study – the only other randomized study of a contemporary publicly funded pre-K program – also found few positive effects after the pre-K year.”

I do want to thank Hanney for informing us that the annual national budget for Head Start is “just above $9.5 billion” and Arizona receives $143 million. I find it interesting that there has been little solid research on Head Start, even though it has existed and been touted for decades now.

Why aren’t there a dozen studies? Is it because the results do not support continuing the program? We taxpayers are not getting much for our $9.5 billion, since there is little lasting academic effect.

Reading and math skills are essential to success in school and in life. We would be better off encouraging young men and women to graduate from high school, get a job, get married, and then have a baby – in that order, because many studies have shown how important it is for a child to grow up in a two-parent family. A two-parent family is less likely to be in poverty, less likely to have children who drop out of school, and the parents are less likely to be unemployed – all things that support a child during their school-age years.