Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Benefits of Compensatory Preschool Education

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Benefits of Compensatory Preschool Education

Article excerpt

WHEN Bill Clinton has spoken about education below the university level, he has most often talked about preschool education. Frequently he has mentioned that, for every dollar invested in preschool education, society gets three dollars back. A number of people have taken him to task for saying this, noting that the $3-for-$1 figure comes from one study of a program with a high-quality curriculum and intensive and extensive treatment. I was among the critics. Now comes Steven Barnett to say that maybe the $3-for-$1 outcome applies to more than just the Perry Preschool Project.

Writing in the spring 1992 issue of the Journal of Human Resources, Barnett first observed that most studies of the effects of preschool programs have looked at changes in I.Q., and, while one typically sees an initial effect size of about 0.5, the advantage fades over time.

A few studies have also looked at some combination of achievement test scores, retention in grade, and rates of placement in special education. Barnett examined these studies in two clusters: one for researcher-initiated studies that tended to be small and well-designed and one for large public school studies that had fewer experimental controls built in.

As far as achievement tests go, Barnett could find only one investigation that shows a later gain for those in the preschool group: the Perry Preschool Project study. However, the other studies have methodological flaws that bias them against showing a gain for the preschool group. He observes that these studies, while they gave individually administered I.Q. tests, relied on group-administered achievement tests that were part of the regular school program. Thus children who were retained in a grade would not be tested with their age mates, and those in special education might not be tested at all. Both situations would tend to bias the outcomes against the treatment group. That is, the retained children would tend to score lower than their promoted peers. If more control group children are retained in, say, second grade, their absence would benefit the control group's average scores in third grade.

As it turns out, all the studies show that children who received preschool education were retained less often and placed in special education less often. For the few studies that include graduation rates, those who had attended preschool were more likely to get a diploma. …

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