Boston Study Findings Support Continued Investment in Public Preschool

Boston Study Findings Support Continued Investment in Public Preschool

It has long been known that a child’s earliest experiences, both positive and negative, have effects that last a lifetime and show up as disparities in physical and mental health, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment. High-quality preschool can provide the types of early experiences that help children to thrive. Proponents advocate for public preschool programs as a way to ensure that all children have access to the opportunities that will set them up for success in elementary school and beyond, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

Public preschool programs, largely funded by state and local governments, have grown steadily in recent years. According to the 2019 NIEER State of Preschool Annual Report, the number of US 4-year-olds in preschool increased by 20 percent from 2002 to 2019, with 44 states and 24 of the 40 largest US cities operating large-scale public preschool programs that year.

And the expansion of publicly funded early learning programs is not likely to slow; state and local investments are being joined by proposals at the federal level. President Biden’s American Families Plan would invest $200 billion in expanding access to universal prekindergarten and ensuring a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The administration says this plan would benefit five million children and save the average American family $13,000.

Just this week, the School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative (SEII) released a new discussion paper called The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston. The study highlights the benefits of high quality early learning experiences and how these show up for children over time. It also examines evaluation results of the federal Head Start program that have indicated that initial test score gains among Head Start participants tend to level out by the end of elementary school, a phenomenon known as preschool fadeout.

According to SEII, “Some analysts interpret these findings as reflecting ineffective programs, while others argue that medium-term test scores are a poor measure of program effectiveness.” SEII suggests that “these disagreements may stem from the fact that no study to date has used a randomized research design to study the long-term effects of a large-scale preschool program.”


Research Design

The Boston study fills this gap with a lottery-based research design that compares 4,000 4-year-old applicants who were randomly selected in or out of public preschool over the course of seven admissions cohorts from 1997-2003. It estimates causal effects of public preschool on:

  • College enrollment and persistence
  • Grade progression and high school graduation
  • SAT and state achievement test scores
  • Behavioral outcomes related to truancy, suspension, and juvenile incarceration



  • Attending a Boston public preschool led to positive long-term impacts on educational attainment as attendees were more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college. 
  • The short-term effect of preschool on test scores was minimal, but there was a substantial impact on student behavior. 
  • Effects were larger for boys than for girls, but did not differ by race or income. 

Impact of Boston Public Schools' Preschool Program

Impact of Boston Public Schools’ Preschool Program

Policy Applications

The findings of this study support continued large-scale investment in universal public preschool, including local programs like Multnomah County’s Preschool for All, and the federal support for preschool expansion proposed in President Biden’s American Families Plan. 

From the study: “As policymakers consider increased public investment in universal preschool, the research findings suggest that preschool can lead to long-term educational attainment gains through improvements in behavior. Furthermore, the observed effects across demographic groups suggest that all students are likely to benefit from universal preschool.”

2020 NIEER Report: Federal/State Partnership Needed to Expand High-Quality, Full-Day Preschool

2020 NIEER Report: Federal/State Partnership Needed to Expand High-Quality, Full-Day Preschool

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic set back state preschool enrollment and funding across the country, according to the 2020 edition of The State of Preschool Yearbook by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, released earlier this month.

Oregon had achieved an increase in enrollment and inflation-adjusted spending prior to the pandemic, and is poised to continue to make headway on preschool access by funding the Governor’s recommended expansion of Preschool Promise, Oregon Pre-Kindergarten, and the Equity Fund during the 2021 legislative session.

But nationally, the report found that:

  • Growth in state-funded preschool was slowing before the pandemic.
  • The pandemic imposed serious setbacks and reversed recent progress.
  • Uneven progress among states is worsening inequality in children’s access to high-quality preschool.
  • Most states spend too little per child to support high-quality, full-day pre-K and few reach all their 3- and 4-year-olds.

NIEER says now is the time for a renewed commitment to high-quality preschool for all, beginning with those in the lowest-income families.

“Oregon is one of a small number of states approaching levels of per-child spending adequate to truly support high-quality preschool,” said Steven Barnett, Ph.D., NIEER’s founder and senior co-director.

Dana Hepper, CI’s director of policy and advocacy, adds, “Oregon’s per-child spending reflects the progress we’ve made toward achieving funding parity with K-12 schools — which would mean preschool teachers were paid on the same scale as elementary teachers, and full school-day programs were available to 3- and 4-year-olds.”

Federal/State Partnership Needed Beyond COVID Rescue & Recovery Dollars

Nationwide, enrollment in state-funded preschool increased slightly in 2019-2020, but took a hit in 2020-2021 as many programs closed or only offered virtual learning and parents were hesitant to send children to in-person school during the pandemic.

“For nearly 20 years, annual progress on preschool has been slow and uneven, and at this pace universal pre-K will remain an unfulfilled promise into the next century,” said Barnett. “Beyond federal rescue and recovery dollars for the short-term, we need a new federal/state partnership to accelerate progress toward high-quality pre-K beginning with the most disadvantaged children, many of whom still receive no pre-K at all. This would require that federal and state governments steadily increase spending on pre-K during the next 30 years, expanding programs to reach all 3- and 4-year-olds, beginning with the many children in low-income families who still do not attend pre-K.”

As with last year, the survey reveals bipartisan support for preschool across the country, with both “red” and “blue” states among the nation’s leaders in high-quality preschool. That offers hope that the nation can move ahead to expand access more rapidly in the future.

Scappoose, St. Helens, and Lincoln County School Districts Join Early School Success Partnership

Scappoose, St. Helens, and Lincoln County School Districts Join Early School Success Partnership

What is ESS?

The Early School Success initiative (ESS) is Children’s Institute’s response to research which finds that children have the best outcomes when they receive developmentally appropriate, aligned instruction from preschool through the elementary grades. Developed out of the lessons we’ve learned through Early Works, ESS is a partnership. ESS partner districts are provided with consultation, professional development, and coaching to help them strengthen and align preschool and elementary learning experiences and develop deeper, more effective partnerships with families.

Though most education reform efforts and professional learning opportunities for educators focus on grades 3–12, we know that changing student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps requires a transformational shift in how we think about and approach education in the early years. The state of Oregon recognizes that “the greatest gains are achieved when the services and instruction children receive are well aligned and structured to build on one another.” ESS exists to support educators and communities to make this valuable alignment possible.


ESS Expands to Include Rural Districts

ESS launched in 2019 with Beaverton and Forest Grove School Districts as its first partners. As these two districts enter their third year, CI has sought to expand the program. We’re pleased to announce that we will be working with Lincoln County, St. Helens, and Scappoose School Districts to bring ESS work into Oregon’s rural context.

Through a rigorous application process that included input from district leadership, teachers, parents, and other members of the school communities, these district partners were chosen based on demonstrated commitment to early learning, the value of partnership, and existing work toward racial equity. 

“With the vision that all young children and their families will thrive, the Scappoose and St. Helens School Districts are thrilled to be able to build upon the early childhood landscapes within our communities,” says Jen Stearns, director of student achievement for Scappoose SD. “Our partnership with Children’s Institute and the Early School Success Grant will empower us to serve more students effectively, encourage parent engagement, and support the alignment of dynamic instruction from preschool through 2nd grade. This is an exciting time to be serving the students and families in Columbia County.” 

Dr. Katie Barrett, director of elementary education at Lincoln County SD said, “Our district is immensely pleased to have the opportunity to work with Children’s Institute on the Early School Success project. We recognize the need and importance of aligning our early learning program with our elementary program, and this grant will allow us to continue to strengthen this alignment as we build sustainable systems and structures that can be replicated in all four areas of our district. We are grateful for the recognition of the work we have begun here in Lincoln County School District, and look forward to our partnership with Children’s Institute.”


Related Links

Beyond Fadeout: Why Preschool to Elementary Alignment Matters

Q&A with Karen Twain: Why I Believe in Early School Success

Hard Truths About Land Acknowledgments

Hard Truths About Land Acknowledgments

Most of us are familiar with land acknowledgments, have heard them and have given them. As an Indigenous person, my feelings toward them, at this point, are mixed. I think, like all things racial justice, it’s an always-evolving conversation.

I get the growing feeling that Native people are starting to feel ambivalent about them. A few weeks ago, several of my colleagues and I watched a Land Acknowledgment Conversation hosted by Portland State University. During the panel, Shirod Younker, a Coquille and Coos artist, said, “It’s this stolen car that they keep driving past us, and they keep waving at us, saying ‘Hey, we stole your car!’ That’s what a land acknowledgment is, right?” When I sit in a room and hear an acknowledgment like this, I respond the same way Younker does. As he said, I “ball up.” It gets tiring to hear, “We stole this, and we broke it, and we’re not giving it back.”

I think it’s really important to be specific in an acknowledgment about how the work you’re in a space to do has included, or has not included, Indigenous people and perspectives, and how the work will affect Indigenous people.

I’m a member of the Okanagan Band of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, whose land is northern Washington state and up over the Canadian border, so even being an Indigenous person born and raised in Portland, I’m a guest here, too.

Many of us are guests in our respective homes today. In Portland, where Children’s Institute has its offices, we’re on land that has, since time immemorial, been home to many nomadic groups, including Chinook, Clackamas, Multnomah, Tualatin, Kalapuya, Kathlamet, Mollala, and Salish tribes. Indigenous people lived here for thousands of years, connected to the land and its place-specific teachings regarding how to live on it, unbothered and thriving. White settlement became the norm for this area only 163 years ago, which is six generations removed from us today.

When white settlement began, Indigenous populations were reduced by 90 percent over the course of one generation. Nine of every ten Indian people died from European diseases, or by violence, over the course of about twenty years. But the survivors were still fighting for sovereignty and the right to live on their land in the ways they always had.

These fights were violent. They were wars. And because of this, by the end of the 1850s, the remaining Indigenous survivors, of the illnesses and the fighting, were displaced from this land, their home, and confined to reservations. In Portland, that primarily meant the Grand Ronde reservation, about 70 miles southwest of my current home.

At the same time, Indian children were separated from their families and communities and sent to residential schools. Children from the area that is now Portland likely went to the Chemawa Indian Boarding School in Salem, where they were, at that time, prohibited from speaking their languages or participating in the cultural and spiritual practices that they had known all their lives. Assimilation to Western cultural norms was the goal of their education.

From that point, Indigenous people were, by law, not allowed to live within Portland’s city limits until the 1920s. For context or a frame of reference, that is when my tama, my Indian grandma, was a baby. Since then, of course, Native people have moved back into Portland, and descendants of this region’s Indigenous people are here today. And their culture is resilient. They still hold place-specific teaching about how to live on this land.

Ashley and her Grandma Lucy in Portland, 1982

Acknowledgment of these facts is worth nothing if it doesn’t inspire actions of reconciliation. And that is, I hope, a large part of the work we do every day every day at Children’s Institute. The effects of the colonization of this land have been, and are, experienced most harshly by Native children, Black children, children of color, and children whose parents are immigrants. This organization has a role to play in creating a system of caring for and educating children that contributes to a more just future.

I hope that when we gather, we can not only acknowledge the history of the land that we live and work on, but we can also critically examine the ways that we, and members of the communities that we work with, are either benefitting from or being harmed by settler colonialism, and that we can move forward with the reconciliatory action of seeking out and relying upon the perspectives of the people indigenous to the lands we occupy. Because, like Shirod Younker said, the relationship Native people have with their ancestral land means that they know things that we, as guests, don’t know about how to be human in this specific place.

ECC Policy Agenda Shaped by Lived Experience

ECC Policy Agenda Shaped by Lived Experience

Zakkiyya Ibrahim had been running a 5-star rated child care program in her rental home for three years when she received sudden notice last May, from her landlord, that she would need to close her business within fourteen days or receive an eviction notice. Zakkiyya could not shut down her business in two weeks; not only did her own family depend on the income, she also did not want to disrupt child care for the parents who were relying on it so they could work.

Zakkiyya was fortunate. She was able to negotiate an extension with her landlord, and ultimately, she and her husband bought a home and now operate the business in this new location. But many in-home child care providers in Oregon are not able to seamlessly move from renting to owning property.

“It’s challenging, because there are so many write-offs for a child care business,” Zakkiyya says. “Your income looks really low. That makes it hard to buy a property because you won’t qualify for many loans.”

Finding another rental is difficult as well. Not every rental property meets licensing requirements, and when they do, there is no guarantee that a landlord will be willing to rent to a prospective tenant who intends to run a licensed child care business in the home, even if the business owner carries insurance and has no history of injuries, damages, or other issues.

As a child care provider and the owner of Education Explorers, Zakkiyya has been a participant in Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) since last spring, and told her story in meetings and conversations establishing priorities for the 2021 legislative session. These conversations led to the proposal for House Bill 2484, co-sponsored by AFSCME and Children’s Institute, which asserts that fair and reasonable protections for renters are one piece of expanding child care access and opportunities for culturally specific child care settings, helping to meet a critical need in Oregon.

The ECC’s 2021 Legislative Agenda is centered on community-driven policy proposals like this one, and has been guided by the experiences of Black and Indigenous families, families of color, and families and providers historically excluded from policy and budget decisions. This shift toward inclusive policy-making is a crucial step for implementing comprehensive change needed to build an early childhood system which addresses generations of exclusion and discrimination.

According to Dana Hepper, who convenes the ECC as Children’s Institute’s director of policy and advocacy, “Zakkiyya’s contributions to our work this session have been huge. The items on this agenda were truly shaped by her story and her expertise, as well as the expertise of other participants in the ECC who can offer a deep understanding of the kinds of change we need to see in order to create an early childhood system that really works for people.”

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