The Short- and Long-Term Impacts of Large Public Early Care and Education Programs. What are the short-term impacts of early care and education programs on children's outcomes?


Research indicates that one or more years of high-quality, developmentally appropriate early care and education (ECE) improves a range of children's outcomes, including language, literacy, and numeracy skills, when measured at the end of the program or soon after.[2] These findings are consistent across small demonstration programs, such as the well-known Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs, which have shown very large effects,[3] as well as among large-scale public programs such as public pre-K and Head Start programs.[4] The large-scale public programs have shown positive but more modest short-term effects, but they were also, in general, less costly or intensive, and served a broader range of children.

Relatively recent research on the impact of high-quality prekindergarten programs on children's outcomes is quite strong, providing evidence for both short- and long-term impacts of meaningful magnitude. Pre-K yields large short-term effects on academic measures of school readiness (e.g., cognition, language), and some studies show that pre-K programs improve social-emotional development.[5] For example, research on Oklahoma's universal prekindergarten program in Tulsa indicates that children who attended pre-K were advanced on pre-reading skills by 9 months, pre-writing skills by 7 months, and pre-math skills by 5 months, compared to similar children who did not participate.[6] The Tulsa study also found more modest gains in social-emotional development, including higher attentiveness and lower timidity (but not differences in other aspects of problem behavior).[7] Likewise, a recent study of Boston's city-wide prekindergarten program found moderate to large effects on children's language, literacy, numeracy, and math skills, and smaller impacts on children's executive functioning and emotion recognition.[8] In Tennessee's pre-K program, participating children scored about one-third of a standard deviation higher on cognitive tests than non-participants at the end of the pre-K year.[9] Further, research indicates that Head Start participation is associated with increased receipt of health screenings, immunizations, and dental exams,[10] and a small decrease in body mass index (BMI) over the course of the academic year[11] (full-day programs were found to contribute to larger reductions in obesity than half-day programs, by about 4 percentage points).[12] The recent Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) found small to modest benefits for school readiness skills (e.g., language, cognition) and social-emotional skills (e.g., hyperactive and withdrawn behaviors for the 3-year-old cohort only) at the end of the Head Start year, although by 1st and 3rd grade, these impacts were mixed or mostly diminished.[13]

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