Rand Corporation evaluated the California pre-school system (pdf) to see how it could be made more efficient and effective at closing the gap in children’s school readiness at kindergarten. It suggests that the strategy depends very much on how you frame the goal:
- “If the goal is to raise student achievement in absolute terms for Latinos and African Americans, without reference to test scores of white students, then the largest absolute gain in test scores for Latinos and African Americans is associated with raising preschool participation and preschool quality for all groups of children—a universal approach. The estimated gain ranges from one-fifth to one-third of the size of the existing score gaps, depending on assumptions.
- “The universal approach would also increase test scores for white children. So, if the goal is to narrow the score gap between Latinos and whites or African Americans and whites, the largest relative gain in student achievement is associated with increases in preschool participation and quality for socioeconomically disadvantaged children, a larger proportion of whom are Latino or African American. With this targeted policy approach, the estimates suggest that the racial-ethnic achievement-score
“However, our analysis indicates that there would be almost no narrowing of absolute or relative achievement gaps from just raising preschool participation for all groups without any change in preschool quality. These results suggest that raising preschool quality is essential if preschool is to be an effective policy lever for addressing achievement gaps.”
That’s interesting. I’ve had a few discussions around CAP about that very choice. Are we trying to raise achievement to some objective threshold of “school readiness”, or are we trying to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers? I suppose one way to re-state that is (a) do we want all children to be adequately prepared or (b) do we want all children to have an equal shot at academic success? Depending on how you define your objective, two very different strategies suggest themselves, as the Rand paper illustrates – especially at the state or federal policy level.