With all the commotion over the design of the D.C. Public Charter School Board's Early Childhood Performance Management Framework a key question has not been answered. Do these programs lead to future academic achievement for the students who attend them?
According to the Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson the clear answer is no. The greatest experience this country has had with early childhood education is the Head Start Program, which began in 1965. Mr. Coulson points to a recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that runs Head Start, that has shown no difference in the academic achievement of students by the end of the third grade between those that participated and those that did not.
If there is indeed no lasting academic benefit to kids who have attended early childhood programs then this would support the view that measuring math and reading skills of three and four year olds is not very important. Indeed while pre-school can be extremely valuable for providing a safe and structured place for these kids to go, and a location where they can receive a nutritious meal which they may not receive at home, the academic side may not be as crucial.
It is possible, however, that the quality of existing pre-school programs has not been high enough to lead to later academic success. This idea would support the notion that we desperately need some method for accessing their effectiveness, especially considering the extremely large public financial investment.
Let the debate continue.