Dr. Dale Farran has spent the better part of the last 50 years researching early childhood education. But some of her most famous research has come about rather recently, as she directs the evaluation of the Tennessee Voluntary PreK Program. This study is one of the most fascinating pieces of recent research in early childhood education.
With a randomly controlled trial, Farran’s team found that after an initial PreK year, children who participated scored higher than children who didn’t. After the two groups converged for their kindergarten year, however, that difference disappeared. That’s not too surprising – a “fade out” effect is often observed in early childhood research.
Where this study really started making waves was with the follow-up data. After the participating children completed their third-grade year, Farran and her team found that the PreK group actually scored *below* the other children on the math and science sections of their standardized tests – and by statistically significant margins. By the sixth-grade year, more alarm bells sounded. The PreK participants were scoring below the nonparticipants on not only math and science (and by a greater factor than was seen in third grade) but now, also on English language arts as well. Perhaps more concerning, they were also getting in more trouble at school and receiving more expulsions.
While some may have been tempted to bury unexpected results, Dr. Farran and her team decided to get curious and ask what could be learned. The rest of us get to make the same choice – ignore the research, or get curious and find something to learn.
Dr. Dale Farran is an emeritus professor at Vanderbilt University. She was also the Human Development and Family Studies Department Chair at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and Head of the Child Development Research Department at Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii. Dale also held various positions including Investigator and Professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She currently serves on the DREME Team (Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education) based at Stanford University. In addition to editing several books and writing over 90 scholarly articles and book chapters, she has also influenced policy, practice, and advocacy by writing noteworthy articles for outlets like the Brookings Institution and Defending the Early Years, as well as being covered extensively by NPR, the Atlantic, and other national news organizations.
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Please note: Some have mistakenly assumed the data from this study or from the other titles in this list to be evidence against the need for early care and education. On the contrary, the data and analyses actually show a great need for the *right kind* of care and education. It’s all about using the right ingredients, as this quote I shared from Farran almost a decade ago illustrates.
Find the most recent iteration of the results from the Tennesee PreK Study in this journal article.
Here’s NPR’s most recent write-up: A Top Researcher Says it’s Time to Rethink Our Entire Approach to Preschool
If you missed Episode 50, catch it here: Rethinking the Entire Approach to Preschool (Diving into the NPR Article). It’s the most-listened-to NJC episode to date.
Dale’s guest piece for Defending the Early Years: Early Developmental Competencies: Or Why PreK Doesn’t Have Lasting Effects
The Working Paper we mentioned coming out of Annenberg at Brown: Why Are Preschool Programs Becoming Less Effective?
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