Assessing the Evaluations of Early Childhood Education Programs

Chapter 12 - Five-State Pre-K Evaluation
Introduction to the Original Evaluation (Excerpt)

The pre-K programs of Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia are state-funded, school-based programs focused exclusively on providing education to three- and four-year-olds and are considered to be among the strongest pre-K programs in the nation.

Steve Barnett and his colleagues at the National Institute of Early Education Research and Northwestern University ("the NIEER team") conducted an evaluation of pre-kindergarten programs in Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia. Three of the states limited pre-K enrollment to disadvantaged children (Michigan, South Carolina) or to children residing in counties with a high percentage of disadvantaged children (New Jersey). The other two (Oklahoma and West Virginia) did not have any limitation to enrollment based on the children's status. The NIEER team used a regression-discontinuity design (RDD) to compare test scores of sample children who had attended pre-K and were entering kindergarten in September 2004 with the test scores of sample children who were entering pre-K in September 2004. Using two different analyses, the NIEER team reports that the pre-K programs in the five states produced, on average, medium positive effects on the children's reading test scores and small positive effects on the children's vocabulary and math scores.

However, the pooled analysis may have used an inaccurate functional form of the data, generating potentially biased estimates, and the findings for many of the effect sizes for the instrumental variable (IV) individual state analysis are not statistically significant. Moreover, these findings are of questionable generalizability. First, although the overall effects are statistically significant, many of the effects for the individual states are not. Second, a number of individual schools and also some school districts in the five states did not consent to be part of the evaluation which raises questions about the generalizability of the findings within each state. Finally, the five states included in the study were considered to have the highest quality pre-K programs and, therefore, not representative of the rest of the country (although they would demonstrate the potential for such programs).

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