Reform needed for early years initiative

As part of their Straight Talk on Evidence initiative, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) has released a report that discusses new findings from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-kindergarten programme for low-income children.

The Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) initiative provides Tennessee’s four-year-old children—with an emphasis on four year olds who are at-risk—an opportunity to develop school readiness skills (pre-academic and social skills). The study randomly assigned 3,131 eligible children who applied for admission at one of 79 oversubscribed VPK programmes across the state to either a programme group that was offered admission or a control group that was not (but could access other available child and family services in the community). Pupil achievement and other outcomes were measured in third grade (Year 4) using state educational records.

According to the LJAF report, the study found positive short-term effects on achievement (at the end of the pre-k year), but these effects dissipated as children entered elementary (primary) school and turned modestly negative by third grade (Year 4). At the third-grade follow-up, the control group scored significantly higher in maths and science achievement than the pre-k group.

The report offers possible reasons for the adverse effects, and suggests that the programme be reformed by incorporating evidence-based funding criteria aimed at improving its effectiveness over time.

Source: Large randomized trial finds state pre-k program has adverse effects on academic achievement. Reform is needed to increase effectiveness. Straight Talk on Evidence, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Examining the evidence on KIPP

As part of their Straight Talk on Evidence initiative, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation has released a new evidence report on KIPP Charter Schools in the US. The report summarises the evidence from two randomised controlled trials that respectively evaluated the effectiveness of KIPP elementary schools and KIPP middle schools as implemented on a sizable scale.

KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a nationwide network of charter schools that serve a predominantly low-income, minority population of pupils from pre-K (reception) through to secondary school. Pupils are admitted through a lottery system. KIPP schools in the two randomised studies were located in nine US states and the District of Columbia.

According to the evidence report, the KIPP elementary and middle schools in the studies both produced sizable, statistically significant effects on reading and maths achievement—increases of between 5 and 10 percentile points (compared to the control group)—as measured two to three years after random assignment.

The report notes that a longer-term follow-up of the two KIPP RCTs could be a valuable addition to the research.

Source: KIPP charter schools—strong, replicated evidence of sizable effects on student achievement (May 2018), Laura and John Arnold Foundation