Vanderbilt Study: Tennessee Pre-K Program Shows Disappointing Results

Children participating in Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) program were more likely than those who didn’t attend the program to need special education services and showed higher instances of school rule violations in later grades, according to the latest results of an ongoing study by researchers at Vanderbilt University.

The researchers also found no differences in attendance rates between students who enrolled in the pre-K program and those who didn’t, and that VPK had no effects on attendance and retention in the later grades.

According to the Vanderbilt Study:

The inauspicious findings of the current study offer a cautionary tale about expecting too much from state pre-k programs. The fact that the Head Start Impact study – the only other randomized study of a contemporary publicly funded pre-k program – also found few positive effects after the pre-k year adds further cautions (Puma et al., 2012).

State-funded pre-k is a popular idea, but for the sake of the children and the promise of pre-K, credible evidence that a rather typical state pre-k program is not accomplishing its goals should provoke some reassessment. It is apparent that the phrase “high-quality pre-K” does not convey enough about what the critical elements of a program should be.

Expanding “high-quality” pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and low-income three-year-olds is a hallmark of the [Kirwan] Commission on Innovation and Excellence’s preliminary report. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Early Childhood Education workgroup, one of four workgroups tasked with costing out the Commission’s preliminary recommendations, last week released initial cost estimates for expanding high-quality, full-day pre-K in Maryland — and the numbers are staggering.

According to the workgroup, expanding “high-quality,” full-day pre-K to low-income (300% FPL) three- and four-year-olds in Maryland would cost approximately $1 billion.

The Commission’s four working groups will continue working to develop a consensus on the design, implementation plan, and cost for each of the preliminary recommendations. Once the working groups have completed their work, they will present their recommendations and cost estimates to the full Commission. The chair will work with staff and consultants to develop a draft cost estimate based on the recommendations of the working groups for the full Commission’s consideration.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission.

Learn more about the Kirwan Commission and its efforts to ensure that Maryland students receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education at the MACo Summer Conference session “Angling for Educational Excellence: Kirwan 2.0.” The session will be held from 10:15 -11:15 am on Saturday, August 18.


  • Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan, Chair, Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education
  • The Honorable Craig Rice, Council Member, Montgomery County
  • The Honorable William Valentine, Commissioner, Allegany County

Moderator: The Honorable Maggie McIntosh, Maryland House of Delegates

The 2018 MACo Summer Conference will be held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: