In the late 1990s, Boston expanded its public Pre-K program, but didn’t have nearly enough seats for every 4-year-old in town. Hence, a lottery was used to determine which children could enroll.
This lottery provided an opportunity for academic researchers. This meant that thousands of otherwise similar children would have different life experiences due to random coincidences. Random coincidences are a powerful way for social scientists to study cause and effect. It can be the closest thing to a laboratory experiment in the real world.
Pre-K was a particularly good subject to study as there has been a longstanding debate about how important it is. In the 1960s and 1970s, studies of two small preschool programs – known as the Perry and Abecedarian programs – showed great benefits for the children who attended them. However, some experts pointed out that the two programs were of higher quality than most of the Pre-K programs. Because of this, a community that passed the universal Pre-K couldn’t expect to repeat the benefits of Perry and Abecedarian.
The evidence for larger pre-K programs – like the federal Head Start program – has been more inconsistent. Head Start graduates appeared to do better in math and reading tests in their early years of elementary school. With increasing age, however, the positive effects often diminished and left the value of Universal Pre-K unclear.
This debate now has a new urgency. President Biden calls on the federal government to subsidize state pre-K programs. Around two-thirds of 4-year-olds and half of 3-year-olds now attend such programs. Biden aims to make them universally available, at an additional cost of about $ 20 billion per year (or less than 1/30 of the federal government’s spending on Medicare). He would pay for it by raising taxes on the rich.
In today’s newsletter I would like to inform you about the results of the Boston Pre-K study. They will be released 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: The Boston students who won the lottery did not do noticeably better on standardized tests in elementary school, middle school or high school, according to the three researchers Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Parag Pathak and Christopher Walters. These results agree with the mixed evidence on head start.
But test results are mostly a means, not an end. More important than the score are concrete measurements of a student’s well-being. And by doing this, the students who won the lottery fared far better than those who lost it.
The winners in high school were less likely to be suspended and less likely to be sentenced to juvenile imprisonment. Nearly 70 percent of lottery winners graduated from high school compared to 64 percent of lottery losers, which is a major difference for two otherwise similar groups. The winners were also more likely to attend the SAT, enroll in college, and graduate from college, although the evidence is incomplete due to the age of the students.
These positive effects were similar across race and income groups. They also spanned both genders, with greater implications for boys than for girls. The authors note that their findings are in line with several other studies that also found that early childhood education had a greater impact on long-term outcomes than short-term metrics.
How could Pre-K have these positive effects without increasing test scores? It appears to improve children’s social and emotional capacities and help them mature more than it does in a narrow academic sense, the researchers told me.
The results are a reminder of how complex process training is. We can’t just do without test results. Measurement and accountability are important parts of education, just like most human endeavors. Without them, society tolerates a lot of mediocrity and failure. However, the measurement often needs to be nuanced to be accurate.
“One important implication of our study,” said Walters, a Berkeley economist, “is that modern public preschool programs can improve educational attainment on a large scale.”
For more: How Childcare in Biden’s Washington became a hot topic by The Times’ Emily Peck; and why Republicans are giving up their earlier Washington Post support for universal childcare by Elliot Haspel.
The revolution without kneading
Bread-making changed in 2006, when Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman published their new version of the mold in The Times: a recipe that allowed time to do most of the work without kneading.
The technology led to an explosion in amateur baking and also changed professional baking, writes the chef J. Kenji López-Alt. It changed his life too. “Learning how time can do the job for you took me from someone who baked maybe a loaf or two a year to someone who throws dough together on a whim before bed several times a month,” he writes .
López-Alt basic instructions: Mix the flour, water, salt and yeast in a bowl until they all come together. Cover the bowl and leave it on your counter overnight. The next day, shape it into a loose loaf, let rise, then bake in a preheated Dutch oven with the lid closed. – Claire Moses, a morning clerk
For more: Here is López-Alt’s updated recipe for uncommitted bread.