9-29-14 – Pre-K Not Paying Dividends So Far

posted by Rob Roper

Vermont students’ science scores in the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) dropped for the second year in a row. In the latest numbers released (2014), just 44% of 4th graders scored as proficient or better, down another three points from last year.  This is significant because these fourth graders are among the first batches of Vermont youngsters to have “benefited” from, Act 62, which “established publicly funded prekindergarten education” for three-and four-year-olds, and went into effect in 2007.

According to the Shumlin Administration, the number of kids placed in publicly funded pre-k programs was growing by about 2% per year between 2007 and 2011, which at that time amounted to roughly 4300 (or 1/3) of Vermont’s 13,000 three-and four-year-olds. The number has certainly increased since then as after 2011 availability of publicly funded pre-k became mandatory. Before that, the decision whether or not to participate in the program was left up to local control and some districts chose not to offer pre-k.

Three post-Act 62 pre-k classes (in 2012, 2013, and 2014) have taken the NECAP as fourth graders. Yet, fourth-grade NECAP science scores have fallen nine points, from 53 percent proficiency to just 44 since 2011.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.48.14 PM

At a 2011 press conference, Governor Shumlin said, “It is vital that we increase the number of children with access to these programs. These kids will arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, and have more successful educational and professional futures as a result.”

Shumlin has also repeated the promise that “all the evidence shows if we can get there early, if we can invest a dollar in Vermont’s children when they are youngest, we will get a $7 return later on….” (VT Digger, 6/6/14)

Nope.

What the evidence is showing so far in Vermont is that the tens of millions of dollars so far spent on publicly funded pre-k has been for naught, and may even be causing harm. This is in line with findings from the U.S. Health & Human Services Agency’s Head Start Impact Study, which concluded, “the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1 grade for the sample as a whole.” By third grade there is complete fade out.

You would expect, according to the promises made by proponents, that the more kids in a class who participated in high-quality, publicly funded pre-k the better that class would perform. But what the numbers are showing is that as the percentage of kids who have gone through Vermont’s publicly funded pre-k programs increases, the total score for the whole class decreases. Is that cause or coincidence? We need to dig further to say for sure (and this is just one measure), but it should certainly give policy makers — and parents — pause.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jim bulmer October 3, 2014 at 9:37 pm

What do you know? All the pre-K studies presented to the folks in Montpelier predicted this outcome. Would they listen? Never have and never will. Folks, it’s your hard earned tax dollars going up in smoke. VOTE REPUBLICAN in November and throw the bums OUT!!!!

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Linda Kirker October 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm

It is time to get back to basics…children at home or in private day care until kindergarten. It is nonsense to think that three and four year olds are ready for school.
Act 62 just increased the number of “educators” needed to accommodate the increase in students, probably increased the number of union members, and definitely increased our property tax bills.

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