Perry Preschool, State Efforts, and Early Intevention (Universal Preschool)

With all those cute kids enjoying "Fly, Fly, Witch" on the classroom rug and all that fancy brain research behind it, universal preschool often looks like it's a slam-dunk issue -- until you start to look at the datails:

First, the good news: a followup to the Ypsilanti Michicagan Perry Preschool Project found that the participants, now middle aged, continue to do better than their counterparts who didn't get two years of high-quality preschool: 40 Years Later, Mich. Preschool Makes a Documented Difference (USA Today), Preschool is likely good in long run (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Life Way After Head Start (New York Times Magazine), Tracing the benefit of preschool, 36 years later (Christian Science Monitor), Research Updates Lives of Perry Preschoolers, Chart: Preschool Follow-Up (Education Week).

While likely to give prospects for more early childhood education funding a bump, the Perry study can't erase the fact that many programs since then --including some state- and federal-funding versions -- haven't seemed to have done such a good job. And, as Joanne Jacobs boils it down in Pre-school for life, the Perry Preschool Project impact, while notable, was not miraculous: “It's not that Perry participants excelled in later years. They just beat the control group.”

More immediately, a new state by state report on current state-funded preschool programs came out, showing the there are wide variations in how much -- and how good - preschool programs are: For the full report, go to the site of the National Institute on Early Education Research. For all the much-needed attention it gave, the NIEER report also highlighted some nagging problems in the early childhood world -- most notably the dangers of overselling its wares and being perhaps too friendly with the agencies that sit across the table.

For example, even as the NIEER report was praising Illinois for its efforts to increase preschool funding in tight times -- State ranks near top in quality of preschool efforts for at-risk ... (Chicago Sun Times) -- it comes to light that few of the 6,000 additional preschool slots that were funded over the past two years for Chicago have been created or filled: Playing tricks on preschoolers (Chicago Tribune). This revelation not only raises questions about the usefulness of the data in the NIEER report, it also makes you wonder about abilities and effectiveness of the early childhood advocacy community in Chicago, which is much-admired nationally.

Lying just below the surface of the preschool debate is the contentious issue of assessment and early literacy intervention. No one's going to pay for universal coverage without some sense of the impact of these programs, and yet many in the preschool establishment argue that preschool is too young to focus on literacy or assess young children. The November issue of the American Educator takes a surprisingly pro-assessment look at early intervention and assessment programs: Preventing Early Reading Failure—and Its Devastating Downward Spiral (American Educator), and Preventive Medicine. On the other side is Richard Rothstein in his article Too Young to Test (American Prospect), which describes the struggles and problems that have come from early efforts to measure the impact of Head Start programs.

Rounding out the slew of reports, the folks at the Education Writers Association also released an excellent report on preschool education, this one focused on teacher quality: Early Childhood Education--Teacher Quality. This is the second report from EWA. The first was Early Childhood Education, States Moving Toward Universal Coverage.


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