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

Straight talk on evidence

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), which sponsors the US version of Best Evidence in Brief, has launched a new initiative called Straight Talk on Evidence.

The purpose of the initiative is to “distinguish credible findings of programme effectiveness from the many others that claim to be, through an easy-to-read, no-spin digest of recent programme evaluation findings.”

For example, the site presents highlights of a report on preventing youth crime. LJAF reviewed a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of Reading for Life, a mentoring and character development programme for young offenders in the US. The review found this to be a well-conducted RCT, showing that the programme reduced the rate of subsequent re-arrests. The study’s main limitation is that it was conducted in a single town in Indiana.

Source: Promising new evidence in the effort to prevent youth crime (August 2017), Straight Talk on Evidence