Panel Paper: How Do Post-Preschool Pipelines Support or Suppress Early Benefits? School-Based Pre-K, Segregation, Resources, and Academic Achievement

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 11 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Walker A. Swain, Vanderbilt University; University of Georgia

In recent years, political consensus has grown around expanding school services downward in the form of investing in preschool. However, amidst this early-childhood policy renaissance, scholars and policy analysts have paid increasing attention to the well documented, “fade out” of measured benefits of these types of one-shot early interventions (e.g., Bailey et al., 2017; Lipsey, Farran, & Durkin, 2017). While it makes intuitive sense for evaluations of early childhood investments to focus on the goal of lasting measurable benefits, a focus on “fade-out” or convergence of performance, neglecting policy-sensitive subsequent experiences merits scrutiny.

Several recent studies have examined differential persistence of effects from public pre-K experiments based on subsequent classroom experiences (e.g., Jenkins et al., 2018; Swain, Springer, & Hofer, 2015) and one long term outcome analysis found evidence of dynamic complementarities between early head start expansions and school finance reforms (Jackson & Johnson, 2017) suggesting important interactions between early childhood interventions and subsequent educational environments. This study seeks to build on recent studies finding lasting impacts of expanded state preschool programs in North Carolina (Dodge, Bai, Ladd, Muschkin, 2017) and Oklahoma (Gormley et al, 2017) to assess effects of similar state pre-K expansions across the country, and then examine differential benefits based on system-level K-12 education policies like district funding levels and relative ravial and socioeconomic integration of students.

This study will examine evidence of important interactions between early-childhood programs and the school experiences that follow. I use data from the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA) measures of grade level (3-8) standardized test scores and achievement gaps in each of the 14,372 districts in the United States, from 2009-2015 merged with common cored data (CCD) pre-K enrollment files from 2000-2011 to capture the levels of pre-k exposure for each of the 5 cohorts. In a fixed effect framework the analytic strategy isolates the relationship between expanded pre-K coverage and other state, local, and national policy trends, to estimate a plausibly causal effect on later test scores.

The study focuses on answering two primary research questions with particular attention to regional variation and differences by student racial and ethnic subgroups: (a) to what extent does expanded exposure to school-based pre-k improve student achievement as measured by state test scores? And (b) To what extent did pre-k effects depend on post-pre-k experiences of racial and socioeconomic isolation and varying levels of school funding?

Preliminary results indicate expanded pre-K coverage is associated with significantly improved (effect size .03-.06 SD) cohort test scores fading as students enter middle school, with differences by student race/ethnicity. I also find early evidence of differences in longer-term benefit persistence based on levels of school funding and racial or socioeconomic isolation. Findings have implications for policymakers interested in the promise of universal access to early childhood education, and the challenges of supporting sustained benefits for those who participate.