The agency updated this study in October 2012, waiting to release it until after Obama's reelection. The findings were the same, as Mary Katharine Ham notes on the widely read national conservative blog Hot Air. Ham summarizes the study thusly: "The theme of this evaluation is 'no statistically measurable effect,' and what tiny positive effects there are among subgroups in behavioral and parental improvements are outweighed by statistically measurable harmful impacts in others. This is not a wise way to spend billions of dollars."
In December 2008, Stanford University's Maria Donovan Fitzpatrick completed an exhaustive study of Georgia's pre-K program. Her conclusion: "The results of the study and its cost benefit analysis indicate scarce public funds may be used more efficiently by implementing targeted strategies in the design of pre-K programs, perhaps by using observable characteristics like the income of families or the population density in school districts."
Vanderbilt University just completed a similar study, of which the Brookings Institution's Russ Whitehurst says, "The most defensible conclusion is that these statewide programs are not working to meaningfully increase the academic achievement or social/emotional skills and dispositions of children from low-income families."
Where are the positive studies, you ask? They are three and four decades old, for the most part. More recent studies are very narrow and study small programs that would be impossible to replicate on a national scale.
Where does this leave us? It is easy to demagogue universal pre-K, and Democratic politicians are doing so everywhere. But before we start a new entitlement that will never die, we should evaluate what we have now. Can anyone say taxpayers got $180 billion in benefit from Head Start over the past 50 years?
Whitehurst also said this: "Maybe we should figure out how to deliver effective programs before the federal government funds preschool for all."