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State-funded Preschool
May 2019


What does the research say about the quality of state-funded preschool or prekindergarten programs and the programs' effects on children’s learning outcomes?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., Friedman-Krauss, A., Frede, E. C., Nores, M., Hustedt, J. T. et al. (2018). State prekindergarten effects on early learning at kindergarten entry: An analysis of eight state programs. AERA Open, 4(2). Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"State-funded prekindergarten (preK) programs are increasingly common across the country. This study estimated the effects of eight state-funded preK programs (Arkansas, California, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia) on children’s learning using a regression discontinuity design."

Bassok, D., & Galdo, E. (2016). Inequality in preschool quality? Community-level disparities in access to high-quality learning environments. Early Education & Development, 27(1), 128–144. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Using unique data from Georgia’s universal prekindergarten program, this study provides empirical evidence of the relationship between community characteristics and the availability of high-quality preschool opportunities. We show that in Georgia, a national leader with respect to preschool access as well as quality, there are still meaningful differences in quality across communities. Low-income and high-minority communities offer state preschool classrooms that are rated significantly lower on a widely used and validated measure of classroom process quality."

Congera, D., Gibbs, C. R., Uchikoshi, Y., & Winsler, A. (2019). New benefits of public school pre-kindergarten programs: Early school stability, grade promotion, and exit from ELL services. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 48(3), 26–35. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This study explores the short-run effects of state-funded, public school-based pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs on the early educational outcomes of students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools …We find that children who participated in a public school pre-K program had higher rates of promotion to the first grade and higher rates of school stability between kindergarten and first grade. ELL children who enrolled in public school pre-K also had higher exit rates from ELL status by first grade compared to students who entered at kindergarten. Analyses explore the role of kindergarten schools and classrooms as well as school stability between pre-K and kindergarten as possible mediators."

Faria, A.-M., Hawkinson, L., Metzger, I., Bouacha, N., & Cantave, M. (2017). The "I" in QRIS Survey: Collecting data on quality improvement activities for early childhood education programs (REL 2017-221). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest.

From the Abstract:
"The "I" in QRIS Survey is intended for state education agencies that want to collect data on the quality improvement activities and strategies used by early childhood education programs that are participating in a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). The data obtained from this tool can be used to document activities and strategies for improving quality and to identify barriers to improvement efforts."

Goodson, B., Checkoway, A., Yudron, M., & Acevedo, M. (with Hofer, K., & Watt, R.). (2018). Year 2 Massachusetts Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG): Evaluation report. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates.

From the Abstract:
"The Year 2 Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG) implementation study focuses on the second year of supports and outcomes for teachers, classroom quality, and supports for families. Overall, compared to its first year of implementation, the PEG programs in Year 2 (which was the 2016-17 school year) appear to have made progress towards delivering the key quality components of the PEG model at a consistently high level across all 48 classrooms."

Lipsey, M. W., Farran, D. C., & Durkin, K. (2018). Effects of the Tennessee Prekindergarten Program on children’s achievement and behavior through third grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45(4), 155–176. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This report presents results of a randomized trial of a state prekindergarten program. Low-income children (N = 2,990) applying to oversubscribed programs were randomly assigned to receive offers of admission or remain on a waiting list. Data from pre-k through 3rd grade were obtained from state education records; additional data were collected for a subset of children with parental consent (N = 1,076). At the end of pre-k, pre-k participants in the consented subsample performed better than control children on a battery of achievement tests, with non-native English speakers and children scoring lowest at baseline showing the greatest gains. During the kindergarten year and thereafter, the control children caught up with the pre-k participants on those tests and generally surpassed them."

Valentino, R. (2018). Will public pre-K really close achievement gaps? Gaps in prekindergarten quality between students and across states. American Educational Research Journal, 55(1), 79–116.

From the Abstract:
"Publicly funded pre-K is often touted as a means to narrow achievement gaps, but this goal is less likely to be achieved if poor and/or minority children do not, at a minimum, attend equal quality pre-K as their non-poor, non-minority peers. In this paper, I find large 'quality gaps’ in public pre-K between poor, minority students and non-poor, non-minority students, ranging from 0.3 to 0.7 SD on a range of classroom observational measures. I also find that even after adjusting for several classroom characteristics, significant and sizable quality gaps remain. Finally, I find much between-state variation in gap magnitudes and that state-level quality gaps are related to state-level residential segregation. These findings are particularly troubling if a goal of public pre-K is to minimize inequality."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Preschool OR Prekindergarten, State-funded OR State, Evaluation OR Outcomes OR Effect

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.