Grover Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution has become
the GOP’s go-to guy for proclamations against universal
pre-kindergarten. Whitehurst was education research director for
the George W. Bush administration, and he provides the ammunition
for those who say that pre-kindergarten has no lasting benefits and
“doesn’t work.” His arguments are useful for those who don’t want
to pay the price of supplying early childhood education for
families that can’t afford it.

However, W. Steven Barnett, one of
the nation’s leading experts on early childhood education, refuted
Whitehurst’s arguments
in the Washington
at Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet. Barnett went
through Whitehurst’s arguments, one by one, and explodes every one
of them. He describes them as wrong, and even “shockingly

Barnett writes: Whitehurst claims that “Not
one of the studies that has suggested long-term positive impacts of
center-based early childhood programs has been based on a
well-implemented and appropriately analyzed randomized
trial.” This claim is false based even on the studies
he does cite. His own statements in the blog regarding the
Perry Preschool study and
its re-analyses by Jim Heckman contradict this claim, as
do older analyses
demonstrating that minor departures from random assignment in the
Perry study had no substantive effects on the results.[1] No
study is perfect, so it is seems odd that Perry receives an A- for
an inconsequential fault when other less than perfect studies get
an A. Then there is the Infant Health and Development program
(IHDP) study, which Whitehurst assigns higher grades than Perry,
but which he seems to forget when making his “not one” study
Yet Whitehurst’s credibility problem is
far more serious when one turns to the studies that
are missing from his analysis.
fact, a number of other well-implemented and appropriately analyzed
randomized trials find lasting effects from preschool
education. For example, a study of
long-term effects conducted by the Institute for Developmental
Studies (IDS) included 402 children randomly assigned to a public
school pre-K program or to a control group at age 4 for one
year.[2] A
teacher and an aide staffed each preschool classroom of 17
children. Positive effects were found through at least third grade.

Even longer term follow-up indicates adult gains in
achievement, educational attainment, and employment, but suffers
from severe attrition. So while we can have strong confidence in
the results through third grade, we have less confidence in the
very long-term results. However, the findings for adults are
consistent with the earlier results in the elementary grades and
with findings in Perry and other studies. Another
randomizedtrial of
preschool education is noteworthy because it was conducted with
relatively advantaged children, and it also found evidence of
lasting effects on achievement into the early elementary

Inexplicably, Whitehurst fails to recognize a large
number of studies (once again including well-implemented randomized
trials) that compare one form of preschool education to another to
study the effects of curriculum, length of day, and other
features. When such studies find lasting differences due to
the type of preschool program, from the end of kindergarten to the
end of high school, they add to the evidence that high-quality
preschool education per se has long-term effects.
This literature includes studies (here, here,
and here)
over many years, some begun decades ago with very long-term
follow-ups and some very recent with much shorter follow-ups.[4]

These studies also add to the evidence for successful scale up in
large-scale public programs.
As preschool
research is conducted in other countries, not just the United
States, there is a broad range of research Whitehurst
omits that finds lasting benefits from quality preschool education,
including rigorous studies in countries with universal programs and
additional well-implemented, appropriately analyzed randomized
When similar outcomes from quality pre-K are found with different
populations in different contexts, such studies are
confirmatory—not irrelevant.

Taken together, they indicate
that the relationships between quality preschool education and
long-term outcomes are quite robust with respect to variations in
the children and families served.