Oklahoma study finds enduring benefits from high-quality pre-school programs

The Seattle Times reports on recent research examining pre-school education in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

in Oklahoma, where state law mandates high-quality standards for all preschool providers, new findings from a study of 4,000 participating children suggest their academic progress lasts well through middle school.

The study, published earlier this month in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, found that eight years after students who went through Tulsa’s universal preschool program continued to perform better in math, were more likely to enroll in advanced courses and were less likely to repeat a grade than their peers who never enrolled in the program.

The research supports recommendations made in our 2017 foundation report update. 

Focusing on kindergarten readiness is a cost-effective way to help ensure students begin their academic careers on a level playing field, thus increasing their potential for consistent individual growth, a successful K-12 experience, and completion of postsecondary programs. The state should continue to make targeted investments to expand early learning options for children most at risk of entering kindergarten unprepared.

The Times reports,

The study estimated the long-term impact of lowering grade-retention rates for students produces a two-to-one return on what the public spends on Tulsa’s preschool program.

In 1998, Oklahoma became the second state in the nation to offer universal preschool to all 4-year-olds, regardless of income. The city of Seattle launched a similar pilot program in 2015, and early results suggest it is helping more children get ready for kindergarten.

We wrote of Seattle’s success here

The scholars who conducted the research in Oklahoma concluded,

In this paper, we have shown that the effects of the Tulsa pre-K program on students’ academic success do not disappear by middle school. Or, to put it positively, short- term gains in math skills persisted over time and pre-K alumni were more likely to be enrolled in honors courses. Grade retention reductions were evident for students as a whole and for many subgroups as well, including blacks…

The persistence of pre-K’s positive impacts over an eight-year period is promising, even if one acknowledges that differences between treatment and control group children, as of middle school, are rather modest. Oklahoma is a very poor state, with poorly funded schools. Yet a high-quality pre-K program funded by the state has left an indelible imprint on students who participated in it. This warrants celebration, and it also warrants further exploration.

We agree.