A systematic review of the literature (1965–2022) and meta-analysis were undertaken to compare the school readiness skills of children participating in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K) or Head Start. Seven quasi-experimental studies met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis and 38 effect sizes were analyzed. Results indicated no reliable meta-analytic effect in relation to children’s school readiness skills overall nor in relation to language, mathematics, or social-behavioral skills specifically. A small, positive meta-analytic effect favoring public pre-K compared to Head Start participation was found in relation to children’s emergent literacy skills (Hedges’ g = 0.17). Strategies are discussed to further equate the benefits of public pre-K and Head Start programming by facilitating greater cross-sector collaboration.
Prior research has found that financial investments in North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten (pre-K) program generated positive effects on student reading and math achievement through eighth grade (Bai et al., 2020). The current study examined the interaction between NC Pre-K funding and two key dimensions of the subsequent educational environment students experience in their school districts: average achievement and achievement growth. In relation to student reading and math achievement in eighth grade, the benefits of NC Pre-K funding were found to be additive to the benefits of school-district average achievement. The benefits of NC Pre-K funding were also found to interact with the benefits of school-district achievement growth such that the NC Pre-K effect was larger in school districts with lower rates of growth in academic achievement. These findings suggest that public investments in early childhood education may be particularly beneficial in the long term for children who subsequently experience low-growth schooling environments compared to children in high-growth environments.