Moving Forward With Proven Early Learning Improvements in Education Reform

It looks like Congress will not rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act this year, which gives policymakers more time to debate how to reform education policies when federal resources are scarce.

While the effectiveness of key public education reforms remains unclear – merit pay and the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations are among ideas still being studied – research already shows how early learning policies help improve student achievement, economist Tim Bartik writes in a thoughtful essay “School reform and early childhood education.”

We know that high-quality pre-K programs can significantly improve educational achievement at kindergarten entrance, by 10 to 25 percentiles. We know that these programs can increase high school graduation rates by 10 to 20%. We know that pre-K programs can improve adult earnings by 7 to 20%. We know that high-quality pre-K programs can improve future earnings for both students from low-income families, and students from middle-income families, by similar dollar amounts. This similar dollar effect on different income groups is a much greater percentage boost to future earnings prospects for disadvantaged students. — Investing in Kids. 12/13/11. 

The analysis, which also covers the importance of connecting pre-k and K-12 systems, is full of insights into how to move early and K-12 education forward. Bartik is one of the most thoughtful economists writing about early learning these days, and his blog has plenty of other interesting material, including:

• “Top 9 reasons why universal access to pre-K makes sense.”

• “How much can early childhood education do to reduce income inequality?

Can Preschool Prevent Smoking in Adults: Add another benefit for high-quality early learning. A study from Australia found an association between preschool attendance and reduction in starting smoking later in life. Currently, the only free link I can find is the abstract.