There has been a resurgence in research that investigates the efficacy of early investments as a means of reducing gaps in academic performance. However, the strongest evidence for these effects comes from experimental evaluations of small, highly enriched programs.   Such programs may be hard to replicate on a large scale. 

A new paper by Rodney Andrews (University of Texas at Dallas), Kristin Kuhne (Communities Foundation of Texas) and myself add to this literature by assessing the extent to which a large-scale public program, Texas’s targeted pre-Kindergarten (pre-K), affects scores on math and reading achievement tests, the likelihood of being retained in grade, and the probability that a student receives special education services.  The program serves economically disadvantaged and limited English proficiency students.  According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, the Texas program ranks low in terms of class size, staff-to-pupil ratios, and spending per capita.

Nevertheless, we find that having participated in Texas’s targeted pre-K program is associated with increased scores on the math and reading sections of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), reductions in the likelihood of being retained in grade, and reductions in the probability of receiving special education services. We also find that participating pre-K increases mathematics scores for students who take the Spanish version of the TAAS tests. These results show that even modest, public pre-K program implemented at scale can have important effects on students’ educational achievement.

You can view the paper here.  Here is a blog post that refers to the paper.  Here is another blog post in Education Week.