Strong evidence shows high-quality preschool works
Research released recently by the US Learning Policy Institute (LPI) has added to the body of evidence demonstrating the value of high-quality early years education in the year before school, as the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector calls for bipartisan support for two years of funded early learning ahead of the Federal election through the Launch into Learning campaign.
Using the Untangling the Evidence on Preschool Effectiveness: Insights for Policymakers report as evidence, the LPI said that children attending high-quality preschool programs reap benefits which last throughout school, and their lives.
The LPI findings mirror those in Australia, with the Mitchell Institute last year releasing a report outlining the value of two years of early education for children in the years before school.
The LPI study included a review and evaluation of 21 large-scale public preschool programs in the United States, finding that children attending the programs were more prepared for school, and experienced substantial learning gains compared with peers who had not attended early learning.
Researchers considered previous research in their study, with their new report noting that interpretations of the previous study findings often depended on the groups of students being compared.
When participants in previous studies were compared with others who attended similar preschool programs, or to a more generally advantaged comparison group, there were often not strong differences in their later school performance. Researchers involved in the LPI study were quick to point out that this does not mean preschool effects “fade out” or that preschool is not effective; it means that the children in both groups benefit similarly.
Researchers said that, on the other hand, when participants are compared “like for like” with those who did not attend preschool, the benefits of participation “are substantial”.
The study found that investment in quality preschool programs bolstered student success, preparing them for school, leaving children less likely to be identified as having additional learning needs, and less likely to be held back in primary school than peers who did not attend preschool. Positive effects in literacy and numeracy skills were also noted.
The report supports the short and long-term benefits of many preschool programs, and also, crucially for the current Australian climate, makes recommendations for how policy makers can implement and support high-quality programs.
LPI President Linda Darling-Hammond said the research suggests that the main issue is not whether preschool works, but how to “design and implement effective preschool programs that deliver on their promise.”
Ms Darling-Hammond said the research found that preschool programs that demonstrate the strongest and most persistent positive effects employ well qualified educators, use developmentally appropriate programs, and provide adequate time and resources for all students to learn.
In order to achieve sustained benefits from a preschool program, she said, governments should invest heavily in “the building blocks of high-quality early years education: teacher preparation, thoughtful curriculum, meaningful family engagement, and support for children with additional needs”.
Ms Darling-Hammond pointed out the return on investment for governments, citing research stating that for every $1 spent in the early years, $17 in savings is passed on to society later in the child’s life, through increased productivity, and a lower likelihood of being involved in crime, and a higher likelihood of good health.
Lead author of the study Beth Meloy said “Quality doesn’t just happen – you have to design for it, support it, and continually work for it.”
“Governments who are serious about providing high-quality early learning opportunities have focused their attention on setting clear expectations for educators’ knowledge and skills, supporting educators to reach those expectations, and establishing mechanisms for ongoing program improvement.”
Those wishing to support the dialogue about the value of early learning in the lead up to the Australian Federal election are invited to register and be part of the Launch into Learning campaign.
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