Early childhood education, from preschool to kindergarten, is a critical time. Of this fact, the research is almost completely conclusive. Ample evidence supports preschool as being one of the predicating factors of a child's later academic success. Unfortunately, not all children have equal access to preschool and pre-kindergarten programs. As Bridges (n.d.) also points out, research on preschool's efficacy in helping students reach higher academic achievement later in life is spurious and not necessarily valid. Amid all the "exaggerated claims about the effects of preschool," what emerges as fact and what is fallacy (Bridges, n.d., p. 195)? This review of literature, however small, attempts to answer this question by focusing on situational and contextual variables that impact preschool effectiveness.
Although early research on the efficacy of preschool was wrought with problems related to internal and external validity, Bridges (n.d.) claims that later studies offered more sensible research designs and methods. These newer studies avoided the problems associated with poor generalizability and focused on larger sample sizes, more diverse populations, and more longitudinal research. One of the largest of these studies was the Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CDC) research, which proved net aggregate gains in terms of educational advancement for most students. Although preschool does not benefit all children, all the time, preschool does seem to improve academic achievement outcomes and other markers of success. Moreover, these markers of success are visible and sustainable over time. Many of the students participating in the CDC study, for example, were followed until the time of graduation. Programs like Head Start also reveal promising results, especially because they revealed what preschool can do for otherwise disadvantaged youth. As with the CDC successes, Head Start successes are directly linked with home visits and parental involvement.
One of the prevailing variables in the literature is parental involvement. Parental involvement is positively correlated with the effectiveness of the preschool program, and parental involvement is a factor in long-term child success. As Bridges (n.d.) points out, parental involvement is often lacking from standard preschool programs, which is why many of them are not as effective as their proponents claim. Therefore, one of the trends emerging in new research related to preschool is that for it to be effective, preschool has to be done right. What constitutes "right" or best practices in preschool varies; but some factors seem to emerge throughout the literature. Those variables include parental involvement, home visits, child-centered pedagogy, and active classroom engagement with students. Other factors, such as multicultural sensitivity and community involvement, are also important.
Margett (2007) likewise found that involving parents is a critical variable for preschool success. Moreover, community integration and involvement can be important in predicting the success of the preschool program. This is especially true from a multicultural perspective. Whether due to lack of knowledge of institutional hierarchy or intimidation thereof, some parents might not have access to all the information they need about how to become more involved in the preschool process. Although it focuses on the Australian population, the Margett (2007) research is important in pointing out the diverse ways preschool programs can be designed and implemented in the United States or any other diverse country.
Much of the research on preschool's efficacy has focused on disadvantaged communities, because disadvantaged communities often lack the wherewithal to support preschool involvement. For families that cannot afford preschool, equal access is certainly not guaranteed. The argument for universal preschool is usually predicated on the beliefs that preschool, universally applied, benefits all students no matter what. Yet as Bridges (n.d.) argues, universal preschool is a waste of precious resources unless preschool programs are designed well. Promising results, such as improved cognitive growth, improvements on math and reading scores, and reduced rates of delinquency, will emerge when preschool programs are designed the way they should be: that is, with heavy parental involvement and home visits, when possible. The problem is that it would be categorically impossible at this time to budget for such intensive intervention in preschool.
Preschool is important not only for fostering the child's academic performance and ensuring long-term success, but also for socialization. An experimental design by Margetts (2007) focused on a diverse group of children in Australia and found that the transitional period to kindergarten was greatly facilitated by conscientious programs that involve both family and community in the social growth of children. This is especially important for at-risk youth, who often miss out on opportunities for preschool that their more privileged…