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September 20, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Guest: What early research can teach us about the merits of pre-K


Dale C. Farran

As cities like Seattle consider substantially expanding their public preschool programs, officials have turned to scientific research to help steer the decision-making process. But it’s important to remember that evidence for positive effects of pre-kindergarten comes primarily from studies of preschools that may not be very applicable to large-scale programs today.

One highly referenced study of preschool effectiveness, the Abecedarian Project, enrolled four cohorts of 14 infants from low-income homes between 1972 and 1977. The intervention began when infants were 6 weeks of age and lasted through age 5, when the children began kindergarten. I was part of the research team from 1974 until 1984.

The concerns of the 1970s are not those of today. Care for infants in groups was rare, and possible health problems were a major concern. As a consequence, Abecedarian infant and toddler classrooms were on the same floor as two pediatricians and a nurse practitioner who provided care to the participants. Interestingly, a recent Science magazine article presented long health benefits into adulthood for those who had participated in Abecedarian.

Another aspect that makes scaling Abecedarian difficult is that it operated nine hours a day, 12 months a year, and provided extensive services to the children and families involved. No programs being proposed today can match this level of intensity.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Abecedarian, early education, prek