Brown Center: “Obama’s Preschool Proposal is Not Based on Sound Research”

Obama addressing a crowd with While I’m not sure I agree with the scary headline of this post from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, I totally agree that we should be thinking carefully about how we implement a major upgrade of our early education program for at-risk kids. (Good headlines drive more readership, hence I quote it in my title…)

You can read their conclusions here, but the following paragraph is a good summary:

When well designed and implemented third-party randomized trials of good preschool programs generate estimates of effects that are orders of magnitude smaller than those being generated using the age-cutoff regression discontinuity design, it raises questions that should motivate a careful examination of the methodology of the age-cutoff research.

You can see that I have exciting reading habits!

We’re looking at expanding access to pre-school for 3-4 year olds, and improving the quality of care we provide outside the typical program is a pretty significant way, and understanding the quality of the research and how they come to their conclusions is pretty important to doing a good job with ours.

We funded some research into how the existing Washington State program does, and my guess is that to do a good job we will need to do the kind of randomized assignment that is the gold standard in this kind of research. It’s painfully expensive to do, and difficult to implement in a fair way, as it requires not providing quality pre-school to qualified kids. The fact is that we don’t have the money or the capacity in the system to cover everyone at first, so thinking about how we implement a lottery to improve our data collection is a key element of getting it right.

About the Author

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.

1 Comment on "Brown Center: “Obama’s Preschool Proposal is Not Based on Sound Research”"

  1. Whitehurst gives a rather distorted account of the research in early learning. Tim Bartik, an Upjohn economist who writes extensively on pre-k research and economics, summarizes this way:

    “My counter-argument can be summarized as follows: Head Start has shown large long-run effects even with test-score fading; even if we think Head Start effects are too small, Head Start evidence is of limited relevance to the Obama proposal; even boosts in 4th grade test scores that appear modest can have economic and social benefits that far exceed pre-K costs; there are many methodologically sound studies of state and local pre-K programs that show large short-run and long-run effects.

    In other words, the Whitehurst-Armor post ignores the extensive evidence that contradicts their thesis, and that is most directly relevant to evaluating the Obama Administration preschool proposal.”

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