Fake Pre-K Claims

by Rob Roper

The Vermont legislature will once again be debating how to expand taxpayer funded Pre-K services. A ubiquitously cited reason why we should do this is that, “Every dollar spent on high-quality early care and learning programs yields a return on investment that ranges from $4 – $9.” (Blue Ribbon Commission for Affordable Child Care). This is, in the vernacular of the day, Fake News.

The Blue Ribbon study making this claim (as well as everybody else) cites in a footnote the Center on the Developing Child (2009), which in turn cites three original studies: The High Scope/Perry Preschool Project, the Abecedarian Project, and the Nurse Family Partnership. Here’s the chart from that report…


But here’s the catch: These studies have absolutely zero relationship to the programs being proposed in Vermont, nor did they serve populations even remotely similar to those that Vermont’s programs serve. To state or imply that Vermont pre-k programs would yield similar results is flat out dishonest.

For example, the Perry Preschool Project only involved 123 (just 58 of whom received services, 65 were in the control group) African American kids from economically disadvantaged households, at “high risk for school failure,” with IQs between 70 and 85. It is dishonest to imply that mainstream Vermont kids in a less intensive, universal program like the one we have in Vermont would respond in the same way.

Similarly, the Abecedarian study was limited to 111 kids, 57 of whom received services. Again, these were all kids identified as being “high risk” based on family income, etc. and the program was birth to five, 6-8 hours a day five days a week with a child teacher ratio of 1:3 to 1:6 – nothing remotely resembling the universal, 10 hour a week program for 3-4 year olds we have in Vermont!

The Nurse Family Partnership isn’t even an early childhood education program, it’s home healthcare program.

As the High Scope website specifically cautions: “The findings of the High/Scope Perry Preschool study and similar studies would apply ONLY [emphasis added] to children served by these programs who are reasonably similar to children living in poverty or otherwise at risk of school failure. (Pg.13) Therefore, when our politicians, advocates and educators use these studies to justify investment universal early education programs for a majority of mainstream kids – and when our media reports these claims without challenge – they are all, at best, misleading the public.

Meanwhile, relevant studies of programs of similar size and scope to those Vermont is implementing do not show meaningful benefit, and one even indicates possible harm.

  • Vanderbilt University study of Tennessee’s Pre-K program (3000+ subjects) finds that students who attended the state’s pre-k program did worse by third grade than students who had been lotteried out.
  • Head Start Impact Study (5000 subjects) finds… “the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of first grade.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

John Maroney January 13, 2017 at 11:43 pm

Well said, Mr. Roper. Thanks for carefully examining this specious “reason” for flinging away more taxpayer dollars.


William Hays January 14, 2017 at 5:28 am

Without Pre-K, Mommy will have to put out her joint and get off the couch, occasionally. Poor thang!


Doug Richmond January 14, 2017 at 12:46 pm

I agree that the major attraction of this spending, is that someone else will do your daycare, and someone else will pay for it.
Our problem is that the state and fed. have created so many roadblocks for a good mother to create a home day care, that it has become discouraging, and enormously expensive to create a caring and affordable daycare for working parents kids. Government dreates the problem, then gov’t comes riding in on a white horse to create a solution. The parents, now taxed even higher, are still more stressed as they try to provide a loving learning environment at home.
If you take over their children at an early enough age, and take over their health care, then you have the population by the throat.
Great Job, and thanks Rob


Doug Richmond January 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Allow me one more comment. Both Parents “have to work.? ”
If both parents work, both need a good car to commute in different directions at different times. $$ Both parents work, they come home tired with a lot of housework to do – instead of fun family time. Both parents work – they jump much higher on the income tax scale $$. If both parents work – they are less likely to have relaxed home prepared meals. More likely to have hastily prepared or take out for supper $$
Both parents work, gov’t mandated expensive day care for each child, along with those further time and transportation costs. Both parents bring home job stresses, affecting their children.
Both parent work = stress for the family, many many extra costs, triple taxes, fewer volunteers available for school or community service.


Jim Bulmer January 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Nothng new here. When he Dems decide to do something to maintain liberal voter support regardless of need, they drag out whatever evidence they can dredge up, however flimsy or rigged to justify their actions. Hopefully Governor Scott will put an end to this nonsense.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

About Us

The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

Latest News

VT Left Wing Media Bias Unmasks Itself

July 24, 2020 By Rob Roper Dave Gram was a long time reporter for the Associated Press, is currently the host of what’s billed on WDEV as a...

Using Guns for Self Defense – 3 Recent Examples

July 24, 2020 By John McClaughry  The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal last week published eleven news stories about citizens using a firearm to stop a crime. Here are...

FERC ruling on solar subsidies could help Vermont ratepayers

July 21, 2020 By John McClaughry Last Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finalized its updates to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), in what the majority...

The Moderate Left’s Stand for Free Speech

July 17, 2020 By David Flemming Harper’s Magazine, a long-running monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, is hardly what you would call a ‘politically...

Trump’s Regulatory Bill of Rights

July 16, 2020 by John McClaughry “President Trump [last May] issued an executive order entitled  ‘Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery.’ The executive order includes a regulatory bill...