We learned a lot in 2016 about how preschool can help kids

Claudio Sanchez · ·

One of the most controversial questions in education has been whether preschool — and specifically Head Start — helps kids succeed as they move through elementary school.

Critics have long noted, and research has supported, that the benefits of Head Start fade in a few years. It’s an important question for an $8 billion federal program that provides support for nearly a million low-income children and their families.

This year brought several new studies, however, that found that — when done right — Head Start and other programs can give low-income students lasting benefits. It’s not only through elementary school: At least one study we wrote about found the benefits of preschool paying off for individuals, and society, into adult life.

All this research, however, was no blanket endorsement. Some of this year’s findings reinforced earlier studies showing the uneven quality of Head Start programs around the country.

And so the lessons from 2016 seem to reinforce the emphasis — by President Obama and others — on quality.

One of the most closely watched attempts in the country to provide universal, high-quality preschool has been in Oklahoma. In 1998, the state became one of only two states to offer universal preschool.

Today, the vast majority of Oklahoma’s programs are in public schools. The rest are run by child care centers or Head Start.

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