Evaluating PHLpreK

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) will be conducting a comprehensive, three-year evaluation of PHLpreK with the support of a $1.8M grant from the William Penn Foundation. NIEER will be examining classroom quality, assessing child development (including language, literacy, math, executive function, and social and emotional development), and interviewing pre-K providers. These activities will provide insights into the quality of programming and  will assist program providers and the City in making ongoing improvements to the program. NIEER will weigh in on the program’s design and implementation throughout the evaluation, and will also conduct  cost-benefit and economic impact analyses of the program. NIEER has evaluated several state preschool programs to date, including those in Arkansas, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, and has been involved in city evaluations in San Antonio, Seattle, and West Palm Beach, and there have been many other evaluations of preschool programs by a range of research organizations in cities across the country, including Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Seattle. 

New York City illustrates how evaluation can be used to inform program development and assist parents. NYC ramped up service very quickly in 2014 to provide services to 51,000 children (and subsequently expanded the program to serve even more children). FiveThirtyEight outlined the scope of the evaluation: staff at a sample of 200 of the City’s 1,600+ providers received surveys about program implementation; at a portion of these 200 sites, evaluators conducted student assessments, and at another portion of sites, the evaluators conducted teacher and parent focus groups. 

In addition, last month, EdWeek reported on ‘Quality Snapshots’ that NYC is currently providing to assist parents in choosing a preschool—including outcomes from the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R) (both are classroom quality measures), and a community survey. The snapshots also include contact information and hours for programs, and any additional services offered. These  are just one example of how outcomes of an evaluation can be used within the community in real time to provide value. 

Program evaluation has been encouraged form the federal level as well. The Preschool Development Grant awarded by the federal government requires evaluation of state programs as a tool for continuous improvement, and as a source of data for ongoing improvement of programs nationwide. A paper from CEELO in 2015 outlines various approaches those states have taken to evaluate programs, including guidance for state policymakers.

Some program evaluations have gone on to assess the impact of preschool programs over a long period of time, these include the Perry Preschool Project, the Abecedarian Project, and the Chicago Child-Parent Center; all have followed children into adulthood to determine the impact of programs on academic and other outcomes, including health, involvement in crime, and engagement in the workforce. 

For a look at what is known about preschool programs from a range of excellent evaluations, check out Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool. The website summarizes the results of a number of short- and long-term preschool evaluations, and explains what is known overall about the benefits of preschool programs.