New Study Can Guide Policies To Maximize Pre-K’s Benefits to Students

Publication Date:

April 13, 2022

Our recently published study of the Tulsa, Oklahoma pre-K program, a state-funded universal program, followed students from pre-K through middle and high school, finding that middle school students who had attended pre-K demonstrated higher standardized test scores and lower rates of grade retention than similar students who hadn’t attended pre-K. For students followed through high school, we found that pre-K is associated with lower rates of grade retention and fewer days absent in high school. Students who attended the program were also significantly less likely to fail a course and more likely to take an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, relative to similar students who did not attend the program. Although the effects of pre-K were larger for elementary students than for the same students in high school, they are large enough—and with sufficient outcomes—to highlight the importance of pre-K to students’ long-term success.

Features of Oklahoma public pre-k

We also found that pre-K may have more sustained impacts on a range of outcomes for students who identify as Black, Hispanic, or Native American. Native American students demonstrated gains in SAT scores from attending pre-K, a finding not replicated with other students, and Hispanic students who attended pre-K demonstrated higher GPAs than similar Hispanic students who did not.

Our work comes on the heels of the Tennessee pre-K study, which found adverse impacts on sixth grade test scores and disciplinary infractions resulting from pre-K participation. However, most studies of pre-K (although not all) have demonstrated favorable associations between attending pre-K and a range of outcomes known to support learning, such as getting along with peers and familiarity with basic number and letter concepts. Furthermore, the body of research is both comprehensive and long-ranging: Studies supporting pre-K efficacy have been conducted with data from national, state, and city sources; have examined pre-K programs delivered from the 1960s through the 2010s; and have followed students in universal (available to everyone) and targeted (available to select groups of students such as English language learners or those from low-income backgrounds) pre-K programs.