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The productive pre-K question

Rather than debating whether pre-K works, focus on making quality pre-school available to everyone

By Sara Mead, U.S. News

Nutrition research is notoriously hard to make sense of: One week experts tell us to stop eating saturated fats and red meat, the next these formerly forbidden foods are fine, and it’s sugar we should ignore.

People following news about pre-K may be experiencing a similar sense of whiplash. Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress published a report, written by researchers from the National Institute for Early Education Research, that analyzed data from high-quality pre-K programs and concluded that participation in quality pre-K could virtually close the achievement gap for black and Hispanic students in reading and halve it in math.

This week, however, the American Enterprise Institute synthesized research on 10 early childhood programs and concluded we don’t know whether pre-K works at all. Do these conflicting findings just reflect the polarized ideological positions of their respective institutions? It’s enough to make an observer throw up one’s hands and just eat a donut.

Yet when we put these conflicting analyses in the context of the lived experience of early childhood providers and children as they currently exist in the United States, the confusion falls away and it all makes sense.