High marks for high-quality preschool

A new report from the RAND Corporation presents findings from a review of research on preschool programmes in the US. Specifically, the report examines whether high-quality preschool produces favourable effects for participating children and their families, the magnitude of the impacts, and how long the benefits last. The preschool programmes ran for one or two years (equivalent to the Reception year, or the Nursery and Reception years, in the UK).

The researchers analysed evaluation findings from 15 full-scale, publicly funded preschool programmes implemented at the national, state, and local levels. The researchers examined evidence for the specific programmes, as well as results from syntheses across multiple preschool programme evaluations. In cases where children had been followed beyond the preschool years, they also considered research regarding longer-term effects.

Key findings of their review include:

  • Favourable impacts have been demonstrated for part- and full-day preschool programmes, as well as one- and two-year programmes, but the research is not definitive about the comparative effectiveness of these options.
  • High quality is a common element among the preschool programmes with the largest effects on school readiness and with sustained effects at older ages. These effective programmes include such features as well-trained classroom teachers who are provided with ongoing professional development support through coaching and other mechanisms, a learning environment that supports teachers and children, a well-defined curriculum that is implemented with fidelity in the classroom and aligned with the early school years, and ongoing monitoring of programme quality and other metrics that support continuous quality improvement.
  • High-quality preschool programmes show sustained benefits for aspects of school performance other than achievement scores, such as lower rates of special education use, fewer students being held back a year, and higher rates of high school graduation.
  • Children across the income spectrum may benefit from high-quality preschool, but the impacts tend to be larger for more disadvantaged children. The researchers also examined evidence on the investment value of preschool, reporting that estimates of the economic return for full-scale high-quality preschool range from about $2 to $4 for every $1 invested.

Source: Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati (2015), RAND Corporation.

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