The Current State of Scientific Knowledge
on Pre-Kindergarten Effects

How well are we preparing young children to enter kindergarten ready to learn? Educators in k-12 school systems are faced with wide disparities in skill levels of entering kindergarteners, which means that all too many children are already far behind many of their peers.

Findings in developmental science point toward the importance of early-life experiences in shaping brain development and suggest that if we knew how to provide these experiences in our early education programs, we could have a lifelong impact on children’s success.

The good news, according to numerous studies, is that children attending publicly-funded pre-kindergarten programs are better prepared for kindergarten than similar children who have not attended pre-k.

While some studies have shown that the advantages persist well into elementary school, two reports — one based not on pre-k but on Head Start and one on the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program — have led some policymakers to question whether pre-k can provide the persistent effects that undergird an ambitious agenda for pre-kindergarten programs. Both studies found positive impacts on children’s skills at the end of the pre-k year but not later in elementary school.

These findings have caused policymakers and educators to turn to the scientific community for clarification about the likely impacts of pre-k programs and identification of those factors that might distinguish effective early learning programs. To answer these questions, a group of leading pre-k researchers came together to develop a consensus statement about the state of knowledge on pre-k education.

That statement — presented in six consensus facts — is embedded in a more comprehensive report on the role of pre-k curriculum, cost-benefit studies, financing, and more.

Duke Center for Child and Family Policy Director Kenneth Dodge was involved in the development of the consensus statement and full report, while Faculty Fellow Helen Ladd wrote a chapter in the book on whether some groups of children benefit more than others from pre-k.

Both Dodge and Ladd participated in the panel discussions held at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. for the release of the report.