The Power of Kindergarten – The New York Times
In the late 1990s, Boston expanded its public pre-K program, but there weren’t enough spots for every 4-year-old in the city. So he used a lottery to help determine which children could enter.
This lottery created an opportunity for university researchers. This meant that thousands of otherwise similar children would have different life experiences based on chance. And random chance is a powerful way for social scientists to study cause and effect. It is perhaps the closest thing to a real-world lab experiment.
Pre-K was a particularly interesting topic of study, as there has been a long-standing debate about its importance. In the 1960s and 1970s, studies of two small preschool programs – known as Pear and Beginner programs – have shown major benefits for the children who attended them. But some experts pointed out that both programs were of better quality than most pre-K programs. Because of this, a community that embraced universal pre-K couldn’t expect to replicate the benefits of Perry and Abecedarian.
The evidence for larger preschool programs – such as the federal Head Start program – was more mixed. Head Start graduates seemed to do better on math and reading tests during the early years of elementary school. As we age, however, the positive effects often have washed out, leaving the value of the universal pre-K unclear.
This debate now has a new urgency. President Biden calls on the federal government to subsidize state pre-K programs. About two-thirds of 4-year-olds and half of 3-year-olds now attend pre-K programs. Biden wants to make them universally available, at an additional cost of about $ 20 billion per year (or less than 1 / 30th of what the federal government spends on Medicare). He would pay it by raising taxes for the rich.
In today’s newsletter, I want to tell you about the results of the Boston pre-K study. They are out this morning by three economists, from the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley.
Social and emotional skills
Let’s start with the negative results: Boston students who won the lottery did not do noticeably better on standardized tests in elementary, middle or high school, according to the three researchers, Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Parag Pathak and Christopher Walters. These findings are consistent with the mixed evidence on Head Start.
But the test results are mostly a means, not an end. Concrete measures of a student’s well-being are more important than grades. And thanks to these measures, the students who won the lottery fared much better than those who lost it.
Winners were less likely to be suspended from high school and less likely to be sentenced to juvenile incarceration. Almost 70% of lottery winners graduated from high school, compared to 64% of lottery losers, which is a substantial difference for two otherwise similar groups. Winners were also more likely to take the SAT, enroll in college, and – although evidence is incomplete, due to the age of the students – to graduate from college.
These positive effects were similar between racial and income groups. They also covered both sexes, with greater effects for boys than for girls. The authors note that their results are consistent with several other studies, which also found that preschool education had a greater effect on long-term outcomes than short-term measures.
How could pre-K have these positive effects without increasing test results? It appears to improve children’s social and emotional skills and help them mature more than it helps in a narrow academic sense, the researchers told me.
The results are a reminder of how complex a school process is. We can’t just give up the test results. Measurement and accountability are essential parts of education, just as they are in most human endeavors. Without them, society ends up tolerating a lot of mediocrity and failure. But the measurement often needs to be nuanced to be precise.
“An important implication of our study,” said Walters, a Berkeley economist, “is that large-scale modern public preschool programs can improve educational attainment.”
For more: How Child Care Became a Major Issue in Biden’s Washington, by The Times’ Emily Peck; and why Republicans are dropping past support for universal child care, by Elliot Haspel, in the Washington Post.
The no-kneading revolution
Bread baking changed in 2006. It was then that Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman published their new take on the form in The Times: A Recipe which allows time to do most of the work, no kneading required.
The technique led to an explosion of amateur pastry making and also changed professional pastry making, writes chef J. Kenji López-Alt. It also changed her life. “Learning how time can do the job for you took me from someone who bakes maybe a loaf or two a year to someone who bakes dough on a whim before bed.” several times a month, ”he writes.
Basic López-Alt Instructions: Combine flour, water, salt and baking powder in a bowl until they all come together. Cover the bowl and let it sit on your counter overnight. The next day, shape it into a loose loaf, let it rise, then bake it in a preheated Dutch oven with the lid on. – Claire Moses, a morning writer
For more: Here is the one from López-Alt updated recipe for no-knead bread.