[Editor’s Note: The state of Tennessee evaluates a program that tries prepare “the neediest children” so they can do well in kindergarten. The full report, available here, is 100 pages of tables, charts, and sociology-babble, but all you need to read are the passages quoted below. By the end of the first grade, the children who had not taken part in the program actually did better.]
TN‐VPK [Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program] is an optional program focused on the neediest children in the state. It uses a tiered admission process with children from low‐income families who apply to the program admitted first. Any remaining seats in a given location are then allocated to otherwise at‐risk children including those with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
The evaluation was funded by a grant from the U. S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (R305E090009). It was designed to determine whether the children who participate in the TN‐VPK program make greater academic and behavioral gains in areas that prepare them for later schooling than comparable children who do not participate in the program.
For that Intensive Substudy sample, we found that the effects of TN‐VPK on the WJ achievement measures [Woodcock Johnson III scales] observed at the end of the pre‐k year had greatly diminished by the end of the kindergarten year and the differences between participants and nonparticipants were no longer statistically significant. The only exception was a marginally significant difference on Passage Comprehension with nonparticipants showing higher scores at the end of the kindergarten year than TN‐VPK participants.
Similarly, at the end of first grade, there were no statistically significant differences between TN‐VPK participants and nonparticipants on the WJ measures with one exception. There was a significant difference that favored the nonparticipant group on the Quantitative Concepts subscale.