Saturday, September 23, 2023

New Study Says Pre-K Does More Harm Than Good


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Story by Zoe Naylor / Contributing Writer

A new study has found that children who attend public pre-kindergarten have lower test scores, more behavioral issues and worse attendance than those who do not.

Researcher Dale Farran, Interim Director of the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University, designed an experiment where low-income children in Tennessee would be randomly assigned to attend pre-K. The 2,990 children were then observed using academic and social markers through sixth grade.

Dale Farran, Interim Director and Research Professor.

The findings of this study were unexpected. One would imagine that pre-K students might be more well-behaved or be more likely to go to college, as one Boston study found. In Tennessee, however, the opposite was true. After third grade, pre-K students had lower test scores, more suspensions and poorer attendance than non-pre-K students.

These results could be attributed to many factors, the first being the study subjects’ expansiveness. A statewide study will have a much broader range of students than a school- or city-wide study like Boston’s.

Another factor contributing to the results is the demographic of the children. According to NPR, children with low-income status are more likely to face biases — including less-engaging lessons, stricter classroom rules and fewer play-centered activities — that children from higher-income brackets did not experience.

The final contributing factor is the vast differences between pre-K and upper elementary grades. In pre-K, schools are often designed to minimize movement about the building: bathrooms are attached to classrooms, cafeterias are located next to the youngest grades’ classrooms. When children get to grades five and six, they are not used to walking to the end of a long hallway to use the restroom or staying completely silent during the long walk to lunch.

These changes in the physical aspects of being in school and stricter behavior expectations combined to make “unruly” or “misbehaved” children. In reality, they have had to deal with many changes in their environment, classroom experiences and rules and regulations. These differences between pre-K and fifth and sixth grades could have contributed to increased suspensions and behavioral problems.

To address these issues, Farran said schools must ease the pressure on pre-K programs. Children do best not when they are pushed for high test scores from a young age or expected to follow strict behavior codes at all times but when they are allowed to enjoy the process of learning and being with other kids.

Hopefully, this study will encourage teachers and administrators to let children do exactly that while still young.

Photo via Pexels.

To contact News Editor Toriana Williams, email

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