Sara Mead with comments on pre-K
I thought you might be interested in this piece I wrote about the Tennessee pre-k study: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/10/20/take-that-new-study-on-tennessees-pre-k-program-with-a-grain-of-salt
As I write in the piece, I don't think that Vanderbilt study can/should be interpreted as offering definitive evidence that pre-k doesn't work. We have enough compelling evidence from other sources--including large-scale, high-quality publicly funded programs in New Jersey, Boston, Tulsa, and Chicago--that pre-k can work. But the Tennessee research should be a wake-up call to early childhood advocates, funders, and policymakers that actually implementing pre-k with quality requires a lot more than just making some money available and setting rules about class sizes and teacher qualifications. We need smarter policy design; a conscious effort to build the supply of diverse, high-quality pre-k providers; and a real strategy to attract, develop, and retain talent and leadership in early childhood.
As Ashley LiBetti Mitchel and I learned when conducting our recent national study of pre-k and charter schools, in many states there's been a real lack of systematic thinking how to build systems of pre-k funding, delivery, and oversight that incorporate multiple types of providers (e.g. districts, community-based providers, private pre-k and charter schools) under a common set of expectations with the right balance of autonomy/flexibility and accountability/oversight to foster supply of quality programs that produce results for kids. We think that the experience of the charter movement and the thinking of folks like my colleague Andy Smarick around how the K-12 system needs to evolve offer a lot of potential insights/and lessons here that are not well understood within the early childhood policy community.
One of the goals/purposes of Bellwether's work on early childhood is to help early childhood leaders and policymakers reach new ways of thinking about pre-k quality, delivery, and supply that are informed by those lessons, as well as a deep understanding of the unique needs of very young children and their families. (We also work on improving the effectiveness of existing pre-k programs, particularly Head Start, and with early childhood providers and funders).
Just wanted to share another perspective here. And encourage you not to give up hope on the potential of well-designed preschool to help mitigate some of the disparities that emerge long before children enter school.