School Districts have adopted Early Learning or Pre-K programs as solutions to their perception of preparing children for school. They believe that the investment makes sense and that children benefit for the rest of their lives. There are several “meta analysis” (reviews of a bunch of studies and then coming up with an interpretation) that they claim are definitive.
So, we decided to gather studies that suggest negative impacts. This is our form of “meta analysis”. It’s critical that parents and the community understand the implications (mental and financial) of such programs.
Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201505/early-academic-training-produces-long-term-harm) This article discusses negative impacts of forcing learning on children who are not developmentally able and capable of handling the pressure being exerted on them to perform at such an age. There are several studies cited as sources for their conclusions.
The Brookings Institute shares a report by a Developmental Psychologist who’s career has focused on designing and evaluating programs intended to enhance the cognitive development of young children. (https://www.brookings.edu/research/new-evidence-raises-doubts-on-obamas-preschool-for-all/) In this report he cites multiple sources that show negative impacts on children. Of particular note he references the Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program which showed negligible positive impact with a number of negatives. He provides details and charts. This is certainly a “scholarly” report.
In a review of published Early Learning studies (http://edlibertywatch.org/2011/03/studies-on-effectiveness-of-early-childhood-programs/ ) there are a number of studies reviewed and summarized. One quote that stands out: “Using data from the (ELCS), researchers concluded that preschool has a positive impact on reading and mathematics scores in the short-term and a negative effect on behavior. While the positive academic impacts mostly fade away by the spring of the first grade, the negative effects persist into the later grades.” All references to all studies cited are provided. The takeaway? Some short-term benefits may be measurable but a number of long-term issues occur.
The New York Times (that bastion of truth and investigative reporting) in an article: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/opinion/sunday/does-pre-k-make-any-difference.html make it clear that “A just-released study tracks the same kids to third grade. There’s still no evidence that the children benefited cognitively from preschool. They may be better socialized to school life — a skill, emphasized in preschool, that may well bring long-term benefits — but many of them haven’t mastered the three Rs. That’s terrible news, since being a proficient reader by third grade is widely regarded as the best predictor of high school graduation.”
Vanderbilt Universities study titled “A Randomized Control Trial of a Statewide Voluntary Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Skills and Behaviors through Third Grade” (https://peabody.vanderbilt.edu/research/pri/VPKthrough3rd_final_withcover.pdf ) The study makes it clear that the claimed benefits are not lasting.
1) There are studies which claim value in Pre-K education.
2) Most of the studies have focused on low-income children and the impact on their learning.
3) Multiple studies show that by the end of 3rd grade there is no discernible difference between children who went to an Early Learning program and those who didn’t.
4) Children of the same age have vastly different developmental states. Some will do well early while others may not flourish until 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade. Indeed, one of our daughters was nearly at the end of 2nd grade before her light switch “turned on”. Today she is a teacher, mother of 4 and an accomplished athlete. Forcing children into roles and situations they are not ready for is harmful.
5) Forcing education on children too early makes them resentful and combative. Children need to socialize and advance at their own pace. To me this means that in the early school years forcing, demanding and pressuring are harmful.
Finally, let’s call Early Learning or Pre-K what it is. Tax payer supported daycare that is cloaked in the mantle of education. Rather than falsehoods let’s ask if taxpayers should pay for daycare.
Our hope is that this effort will raise enough questions to give those in positions of authority pause. While we’re hopeful, the reality is that those in the teaching profession inherently benefit from expansion of Early Learning and Pre-K programs so it’s in their personal; professional and financial interests to support such programs…whether they are helpful or harmful.