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Preschool Benefits Last

Preschool has been controversial in large part because of the 346-page final report by the Department of Health and Human Services about Head Start that was issued on Christmas Eve 2012.  It concluded that the $200 billion or so spent over 47 years did not produce lasting results.

But the disappointing outcome was due to the uneven quality of preschool programs across the country.  The latest study of nearly 1 million North Carolina students who attended state-funded early childhood programs between 1995 and 2010 underscores the importance of maintaining high quality ("A Lesson For Preschools: When It's Done Right, The Benefits Last," npr.org, Nov. 17).  It found that the benefits lasted or grew through fifth grade for all racial and socioeconomic groups.

That's highly encouraging.  But I think the real test will be what happens in middle school.  I say that because middle school is notorious for the negative effects the onset of adolescence tends to have on student performance. It will be interesting to see if the gains reported in the earlier grades persist.  Even if they don't, however, I regard preschool as a worthwhile investment as long as quality is maintained.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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