Thinking Citizen Blog — Universal Pre-K: a Lay-Up?

John Muresianu
3 min readFeb 4, 2022

Thinking Citizen Blog — Friday is Education and Education Policy Day

Today’s Topic — Universal Pre-K: a Lay-Up?

I have always been a fan of universal pre-K. It always sounded like a lay-up to me. The earliest years are the most important. If public education is both a right and a compelling state interest, well, hello, what’s the issue? Well, the question is: what are the effects? I could never have imagined that the effects could be negative. A new Vanderbilt study suggests that this impossibility could have been the case, that is, in Tennessee. It’s tempting to ignore data that conflict with your strong beliefs. So in the spirit of trying to fight off that urge, some excerpts from an article on the Tennessee study. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “Nearly nine in 10 parents support the idea of optional public pre-K in the U.S.”

2. “as do 8 in 10 of people without children…”

3. “And about 70% of Americans agree that federal funds should be used to pay for these programs.”

THE VANDERBILT STUDY: The authors of the study were shocked; publication delayed to check and re-check results

1. “The study followed 2,990 low-income children in Tennessee schools to evaluate the long-term impact of the state’s public school-attached pre-K programs against a group of similarly low-income children who did not attend the programs. The control and test group also evaluated, through a series of interviews with participants, whether other factors like parental involvement were equal,..”

2. “We were all thinking that this study was going to be the first rigorous study that would validate pre-K, and when the kids entered pre-K, the results looked good, they looked like other studies of pre-k. Kids were ahead on school readiness skills over those who didn’t attend, but by the end of kindergarten, those differences had gone away.” By the 6th grade, kids who had attended pre-K “were doing worse than their peers in academic achievement and discipline issues.”

3. “It took two years to get the most recent version of the study accepted, because people had so much trouble accepting that students who attended pre-K could experience worse outcomes than students who had not. They made us go back and do robustness checks every which way from Sunday,.”

NB: “The new study includes 26 supplementary tables to test all possible explanations for the divergence. But even with all of these control experiments, the results remained the same.”


1. “Conclusions about the effectiveness of universal pre-k should not be drawn from one study, warned Beth Meloy, president of Meloy Child and Family Policy Solutions, which consults for the Early Learning and Care Division at the California Department of Education.”

2. “The problem could also be Tennessee-specific. The quality of the program also really matters, said Meloy. If states don’t devote adequate funding to hire well-trained teachers, or design a curriculum that incorporates play and learning, the long-lasting impacts of pre-k could be skewed.”

3. “A May 2021 study by researchers at MIT’s Department of Economics, found that there were numerous long-lasting benefits for pre-k students in Boston. The short-term impacts of preschool are evident in student behavior but not test scores. But in the long term, the researchers found that students who attended pre-k in Boston were 6% more likely to graduate high school than those who didn’t, 8.5% more likely to take the SAT, and 8.3% more likely to enroll in college immediately following high school graduation.”

NB: “Massachusetts’s public education system is ranked number two in the country. Tennessee, meanwhile ranks in the bottom five state for education funding and the bottom half for public education overall.”

Pre-K: Decades Worth Of Studies, One Strong Message

What Does the Research Really Say About Preschool Effectiveness?

The Case Against Universal Preschool

Exploring the Potential Pros and Cons of Universal Pre-K

Universal preschool — Wikipedia


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to education or education policy. Or the coolest thought however half-baked you had. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to education



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.