Earlier this year, President Obama announced a plan to provide public pre-K education to low- and middle-income children, a proposal that has provoked debate about the actual demonstrated benefits of early education. As Freakonomics guest contributors John List and Uri Gneezy wrote here a few months ago, there’s a frustrating lack of information on how effective these kinds of programs are — although List and Gneezy are trying to rectify that gap with their Chicago Heights research project.
A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Elizabeth U. Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach attempts to shed some light on the question by analyzing the effects of universal public preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma, two states that have already implemented such programs. Their findings are interesting: the programs seem to improve some outcomes for lower-income kids, but also result in higher-income families shifting kids from private to public preschool. Here’s the abstract:
President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative calls for dramatic increases in the number of 4 year olds enrolled in public preschool programs and in the quality of these programs nationwide. The proposed program shares many characteristics with the universal preschools that have been offered in Georgia and Oklahoma since the 1990s. This study draws together data from multiple sources to estimate the impacts of these “model” state programs on preschool enrollment and a broad set of family and child outcomes. We find that the state programs have increased the preschool enrollment rates of children from lower- and higher-income families alike. For lower-income families, our findings also suggest that the programs have increased the amount of time mothers and children spend together on activities such as reading, the chances that mothers work, and children’s test performance as late as eighth grade. For higher-income families, however, we find that the programs have shifted children from private to public preschools, resulting in less of an impact on overall enrollment but a reduction in childcare expenses, and have had no positive effect on children’s later test scores.