Michigan’s pre-school program needs more money, integration

In the past few years, Michigan has dramatically expanded preschool programs. What does research show about this expansion’s likely impacts? What could increase this expansion’s benefits?

My just-published book, “From Preschool to Prosperity,” summarizes research on preschool’s economic effects. This research shows that “high-quality,” full-day preschool programs in cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Tulsa increase the future adult earnings of former participants by 8 to 15 percent. Half-day preschool increases earnings by a little more than half as much. Michigan’s state-funded preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), is backed by research showing that the program in the past has increased test scores enough to predict similar adult earnings impacts.

“High-quality” in preschool depends upon how teachers interact with students. This depends upon having reasonable class sizes, and paying enough to attract and retain quality teachers. Quality also depends upon helping teachers improve through teacher mentors working one-on-one with teachers.

Preschool’s economic impacts are larger if preschool includes middle-class as well as low-income children. Research shows that middle-class and low-income students get similar test score gains from preschool. In addition, low-income children benefit from positive peer effects in income-integrated classes.

In the last 2 years, GSRP has expanded from 32,000 to 63,000 half-day “slots”, and from 25,000 to over 35,000 children. (Some children are in full-day preschool, and take up two half-day slots.) Based on past research, GSRP would be expected to increase the present value of future lifetime earnings of each annual cohort of children by over $1 billion. This is a hefty multiple of the program’s annual price tag of $239 million.

But the program’s real funding per slot has lagged behind what is needed. GSRP’s nominal funding per slot was frozen for many years, and has only been modestly increased in the past two years. Funding per slot today for GSRP is only $3,625, with an extra $150 for transportation costs. From 1990-2000, GSRP funding per slot in today’s dollars averaged $4,443. Based on research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a quality half-day slot costs at least $4,675.

In addition, as GSRP has expanded, there has been insufficient support for expanded teacher training, and especially teacher mentoring.

Finally, as part of the expansion, the legislature narrowed the income targeting of the program to focus more on the lowest-income children. This targeting encourages local GSRP programs to be increasingly income segregated, which is not in the best interests of low-income children.

What can be done? First, the state should increase per student funding for GSRP, to enable local preschools to better attract and retain quality teachers. Second, the state should provide additional funds for teacher mentoring and training in preschool. Third, the state should consider more flexible funding schemes that would allow more income-integrated classrooms. Fourth, the state should match states such as Oklahoma that have more nearly universal access to high-quality preschool for 4-year olds. Even with Michigan’s recent expansions, fewer than half of Michigan’s 4-year olds are in state-funded preschool, compared with three-fourths of all 4-year-olds in Oklahoma.

A high economic impact for preschool requires both access and quality. Both access and quality require sizable upfront investments. But the research evidence overwhelmingly shows that such investments will pay off. Our state’s economic future will be brighter with wise investments in quality preschool.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

Like what you’re reading in Bridge? Please consider a donation to support our work!

We are a nonprofit Michigan news site focused on issues that impact all citizens. In an era of click bait and biased news, we focus on taking the time to learn both sides of a story before we post it. Bridge stories are always free, but our work costs money. If our journalism helps you understand and love Michigan more, please consider supporting our work. It takes just a moment to donate here.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Tue, 09/30/2014 - 9:27am
"Preschool’s economic impacts are larger if preschool includes middle-class as well as low-income children. Research shows that middle-class and low-income students get similar test score gains from preschool. In addition, low-income children benefit from positive peer effects in income-integrated classes." It won't happen in Michigan, segregated schools are a fact of life and neither the legislature or the parents want things to be different.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 1:04am
***, It won't happen because there in not practical way to create a homgenous classroom let alone school. The other part of the reality is that it would be more benefitical for children from 'wealthy' families to included in all the classes (preK-12) for the real function of pre-school, socialization. As for the benefit of pre-K is convenient 'wisdom' not reality, we have a history of children not having it succeeding academically and financially, it can not overcome a failing K-12 system, it can overcome a lack of peer, family, and community lack of appreciation of academic success, it can't overcome and lack of an academically safe environment. It is a dillusion for anyone to promote a single year of preK-12 can succeed without the other years being successful.
K Williams
Tue, 10/07/2014 - 1:25pm
What are the "positive peer effects" for low-income students that arise from income-integrated classrooms? Has there been any research done regarding the positive peer effects for middle- and high- income students in integrated classrooms? This is a two-way street - integration isn't always just a good thing for the minority or underprivileged population - and I would love to see more emphasis placed on the mutual growth of children in such spaces.
Bill Fullmer
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 10:46am
Great article, thanks. A previous article about Minnesota mentioned their state policy of strong support of early childhood education. It works. The dilemma with this is that it requires a vision beyond the next election, and that has been lacking for some time. Many problems can be effectively addressed if policy makers will make long term commitments.
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 12:35pm
"research shows that “high-quality,” full-day preschool programs in cities...." Let's not get too blown away by social science research. The data had shown that Head Start programs did not show any improvement in long term learning; I don't know why school learning would have any relevance to lifetime earnings except the illogical correlation, (often peddled as being causal) twixt years of schooling and earnings. And so the latest scam is to rebrand Headstart as "high quality" preschool. And who would have thought that Headstart wasn't high quality? Or was that just a loose exaggeration of mystics? The hucksters here promote using a new medicine that promised cure to be the same as curing.
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 12:53pm
The research on Head Start is more mixed than you claim. There are several good studies that show long-run effects of Head Start. For example, David Deming's research indicates that Head Start has effects on adult outcomes that predict an earnings effect of 11%. http://investinginkids.net/2013/02/25/what-do-we-know-about-head-starts-... You may think education has nothing to do with lifetime earnings. This subject has been exhaustively examined by labor economists over the years, and the conclusion is that the correlation of more educational attainment with higher earnings is a cause and effect relationship. In addition, you may think that test scores in school have no correlation with lifetime earnings. Again, there is a lot of research contradicting this, including research by Raj Chetty at Harvard: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/jfriedm/STAR.pdf The main negative evidence on Head Start is an experiment that found that test score effects had mostly faded to being statistically insignificantly different from zero by grade 3. There are several points to note about this evidence: 1. As noted above, this is one study of Head Start, and other studies find more positive evidence. 2. Head Start is not all preschool, and in fact there seem to be some state pre-K programs with larger educational effects than Head Start, perhaps because Head Start historically was not as educationally focused. 3. The Head Start experiment compared test scores for a treatment group, 80% of whom attended Head Start, with a control group, 50% of whom attended preschool. So the experiment does NOT test whether Head Start is better than no preschool. It tests whether Head Start is better than other preschool. 4. Many preschool programs find test score effects that fade somewhat by 3rd grade, but then the programs end up having effects on educational attainment and adult earnings. One explanation of this is that pre-K may lead to improvement in so-called "soft skills": social and character skills. 5. Since the 2002-2003 period of the experiment, there have been many efforts to reform Head Start to increase its educational focus. And there is some sign that these efforts have worked. Further discussion can be found on pp. 31-35 of my new book: http://www.upjohninst.org/Publications/Titles/FromPreschooltoProsperity
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 2:33pm
"Although some concerns remain in the absence of a randomized experiment, I show that there is little evidence of systematic bias in assignment to Head Start within families." Deming The first article that you cite is your own; riddled with "suggest" and implications. The problem with all social science research is that none of it is reproducible. The lead study that you cite compares the long term effects of preschool on kids with their sibs as controls. Not good enough. Why didn't the sibs go to these classes? Parents disappointed with what they saw happening to the preschooler? Younger and so disadvantaged siblings? Subjectivism? -(which is what I see corroding all social science research.) Using statistical ouijiboards to rescue flawed studies is not convincing and is no basis for social engineering. I'm a physician and freely admit that most medical journal articles are psuedoscientific- medical researchers commonly continue a study even as death rates mount. An adequate study- one that would catch my attention would be an "intention to treat" model in which kids are selected as being accepted for Headstart or its new pretentious substitute and then randomly sent to classes or not. Hard to do, but it would look like an attempt at credibility. Thanks for your input. Remember that disagreement is no proof of anything, and you may emerge with a useable tool to improve humanity. But I remain unconvinced until I see the data.
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 3:03pm
No study is perfect. Studies are better if the comparison groups are truly comparable, but in practice there always are imperfections that if one is a total skeptic, lead to doubts. However, in the case of preschool there are dozens of studies with good comparison groups that show that preschool has good results. At some point, skeptics would be wise to admit that there is a general consensus of the research literature. I'm not the only researcher who thinks that the consensus of research literature is that high-quality preschool works. This is also the consensus of a distinguished body of researchers who released the following report last year: http://fcd-us.org/sites/default/files/Evidence%20Base%20on%20Preschool%2...
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 8:55pm
"No study is perfect. Studies are better if the comparison groups are truly comparable, but in practice there always are imperfections that if one is a total skeptic, lead to doubts." But if I drop a penny, it always falls to the floor and I can even calculate its speed. Or if we react hydrogen with oxygen in the presence of catalysts, heat and water. Boring, reproducible, perfect. These repeatedly reproducible studies can be used to engineer bridges, computers, missions to Mars..... One should be a "total sceptic" when using a science to do serious things in the material world, things like building bridges, computers, missions, but engineers have reproducible phenomena to back up their work and generally things work out as designed. But how much more skeptical should one be to spend serious money on experiments or trial that are poorly designed, ab initio, as conceded by our author? And then to run gullible children down through the untested assembly line of public education and indoctrination based on a statistical tarting up of dubious unreliable and irrelevant observations? My comments and doubts are not restricted to education theory but also against all of the "social sciences." Admit it, economists are always wrong, political and military scientists sent my young butt to Vietnam, sociologist fantasized welfare and destroyed the Black family, we have the drug rehab racket recycling the same poor sad sacks until they age out of drug habits, and so it goes. The data and teachings supporting social sciences are not robust and cannot provide useable models for social engineering.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 8:09am
Humans can not ethically or practically be experimented on as easily as we can with hydrogen and oxygen. But despite this, we can use both artificial and natural experiments with educational and social programs, and get good comparison groups that yield reliable results. Contrary to what you said, many of these studies are well-designed. And these studies are reproducible. That is precisely the point of the reference to last year's research review that I gave above: there are many well-done studies, with good comparison groups, that repeatedly show that high-quality preschool works. The consistency of results should get our attention. The alternative to paying attention to social science research is simply imposing our own prior beliefs on reality, and ignoring contrary evidence from well-done studies.
Sun, 10/05/2014 - 9:24am
Well, I muddled through your signature citation, by Deming. It's a retrospective study, so not an experiment at all; these are notoriously flawed and subject to observer interpretation. One might almost worry about the unconscious influence that the author might have inserted into borderline decisions, but then, Deming is a scientist and he wouldn't insert his interests when reporting on an area in which he makes his living, or would he? He excludes all sorts of folks from analysis, and I don't understand why/how those sibling who went to Headstart are similar and can be compared to those who didn't. He then massages badly flawed, suspect data, until it confesses an answer that makes him and his colleagues happy. Garbage in, Gospel out.
John Q. Public
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 11:54pm
"You may think education has nothing to do with lifetime earnings. This subject has been exhaustively examined by labor economists over the years, and the conclusion is that the correlation of more educational attainment with higher earnings is a cause and effect relationship." Oh, yikes! Granted, my experiences are not a "study", but nonetheless they lead me to think this is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a causal relationship. Hundreds of applications for high-paying jobs are round-filed after they are screened for educational attainment. Employers act as if a secondary degree is some holy grail, and refuse to even interview people without one. In my own workplace, I'm surrounded by people who never would have hired had I had my way. Talented people are ignored and compartmentalized as somehow lacking because they didn't sit in a classroom for 2000 hours and get a parchment attesting thus. We could promote smart, dedicated people with a dozen years of hands-on experience, but we'd rather have someone with no experience and a degree. We refuse to even consider the non-degreed for high-pay employment, and then use the predictable results to conclude, "SEE! Classroom education leads to higher pay!" Demanding a bachelor of science degree in a technical field I can understand; the fascination with BA degrees I never will, and we're overwhelmed with them.
Tim Bartik
Thu, 10/02/2014 - 8:15am
It might well be the case that employers overstress credentials, when some people without credentials have good skills. However, given that there are many competing employers, if it were easy to hire people without credentials and find those with good skills, one would think that the employers who do so would out-compete those who do not. So presumably there are some forces in the current economic situation that reinforce employers using credentials as a screening device for skills. This is taking us far afield from the subject at hand, which is whether preschool pays off. However, I agree that if one could figure out how to do it, it would advance various social goals to encourage employers to do more training and staff development, and to be more willing to take some risks on people without credentials. Peter Capelli at the Wharton School at Penn has had some very interesting research in recent years on problems with employers and skills, and brings up many important issues: http://www.valees.org/documents/SkillGapsSkillShortages_PeterCappelli.pdf
Tim Bartik
Thu, 10/02/2014 - 8:48am
One more point. One interesting finding of the preschool literature is that preschool seems to raise adult earnings by considerably more than would be predicted based on its effects on educational attainment. For example, this is true for the Perry Preschool Program, which now has followed former preschool participants through age 40. The natural interpretation of this evidence is that preschool in fact increases various skills that are relevant in the labor market yet are not reflected in educational attainment. For example, perhaps former preschool participants are more reliable employees, or deal better with co-workers and customers -- so called "soft skills". There was a popular book some years back about how everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten. The preschool movement is perhaps saying that some of those skills may be more effectively taught if we start at age 4.
Becky Davis
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 12:49pm
Michigan has made great strides in the funding of preschool educational opportunities in the last ten years. The funding of the neediest children first has been a priority for Michigan, but it seems that we are moving toward a more fiscally stable time. Perhaps the early childhood movement can advocate for a more universally available program. Some of the gains in PK are to the credit of MDE staff, and Great Start, however the real changes have happened and will continue to happen as parents become more vocal advocates. Parents are voters on behalf of their children, if we always vote with a thought of "how is this good for children?" elected officials will move the legislation forward for Michigan children. If we continue to support parents as the leaders of change, change will happen.
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 6:15pm
"This targeting encourages local GSRP programs to be increasingly income segregated, which is not in the best interests of low-income children." Why did Mr. Bartik insert what seems a short sentence in such a long article? I wonder what Mr. Bartik’s concerns are for him to feel economic integration is so critical to the pre-K program success. What does Mr. Bartik expect to achieve with family income based integration? Does he feel that there is some educational value for ‘low-income’ students that can only be provided by other income level 4 year olds? Does he feel there is something the 4 years olds can do that trained teachers can’t? Why is economic integration so important? Is the pre-K program’s education value built on what 4 year olds will teach to other 4 year olds? I wonder how we can be assured that the designated teaching 4 year olds have the necessary knowledge and will be able to help others learn it. How can Mr. Bartik be so sure that this approach will ensure the learning by the ‘low-income’ students? I wonder what Mr. Bartik believes is inherent in 4 year olds from families that are other than ‘low-income’ that is so important for other 4 years old to learn to justify such emphasis on the income integration for the pre-K program success. I now have concerns, why is economic income integration critical to the pre-K program success and why hasn’t it been discussed openly? Why is it so important to Mr. Bartick and the pre-K program success?
Wed, 10/01/2014 - 7:01pm
Duane: I'm afraid you're over-interpreting my comments. I didn't say that preschool MUST be income-integrated to be successful. There are many preschool programs restricted to low-income students that are successful. However, the research evidence suggests that low-income students learn more when the program is income-integrated, other things equal. As for the mechanism, I'm not sure we completely understand for certain what is the mechanism. It could be different behavioral norms, some learning of vocabulary, and different expectations. There are plenty of theories out there, without much hard evidence. Furthermore, my main point about including middle-income children in preschool programs is that if we want truly large impacts on the state's economy and future, we should include middle-class students if the research evidence shows they benefit from high-quality publicly-supported preschool. And the research evidence supports that. The income-integration is an additional reason why we might want to expand Michigan preschool to include more working-class and middle-class children. Because it is an additional point, that is why I just mentioned it is few sentences. It's one of many points made in the column, not the only point on which I'm focusing.
Thu, 10/02/2014 - 1:08am
Tim, I apologize for my error in understanding. Experiences have sensitized me to simple almost throw away remarks. Even in your in this comment you offer less facts and more speculation with questionable interest in verification. Past experience raises concerns about the unintended consequences to your proposal. Far too many times it seems when it comes to social solutions there is little or no consideration made to identify and address potential unintended consequences. And of even more concern is those who make the proposals are long gone when the social solutions are implemented and the unintended consequences occur. You say how you really aren’t sure of the mechanism which raises additional concerns. So many research papers present a statistical relationship but there is no identified mechanism and yet the papers are used to justify changing people actions and limiting their choices. In your case you want the system to institute economic integration without any consideration to what the consequences might be or if it will have the desired impact or if it will become a burden to the children you are expecting to be integrated into the classes to benefit the students from ‘low-income’ families. I am quite likely in error in my interpretations, but you offer nothing that shows how I have made that error. I wonder why you would make the statement about the integration if you didn’t feel it would be a significant contributor to the success of the program. Even your speculation on the impact integration would have seems to be integral to the type of successes the program supporters have been using for its justification. You are one of the very few in the educational debate that has offered any ideas that were about the children and how they might be impacted and even a bit of how they may approach learning. The current education debate seems solely on the delivery system and little about the students, so I truly appreciate that part of your remarks. If there ever were a discussion about the how students learn and how to help them learn, I would surely like to see you participate in that discussion. I am not so enamored with the proposed program, based on anecdotal cases, but did not oppose it until I see it reaching beyond the classroom. I can see the potential benefit for kids to develop with a diverse group of kids, however, it should be a natural mix and not one contrived by an agency. For I have yet to find agency program that did not evolve into a focus on efficiency over effectiveness, and focus on staff over purpose. There are other reasons for my resistance.
Tim Bartik
Thu, 10/02/2014 - 8:25am
Duane: You seem to be fearful that the system would force income integration on people, when you make remarks about worrying that this is "contrived by an agency". All I am saying is that there would be benefits for Michigan if we expanded our public support for preschool so that additional working-class and middle-class families would have the opportunity, if they chose to accept it, to put their 4-year-old child in a state-supported preschool program. If that were done, any income integration that occurred would be due to the voluntary choices of families making decisions that they feel are in the best interests of their child. Such income integration would "be a natural mix" that would occur if we simply extended public support for preschool up the income range. And the experience of other states is that such income integration will occur. For example, in Oklahoma, which has universal access to pre-K, in that any Oklahoma family can send their 4-year-old to a free publicly-funded pre-K, 74% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-supported pre-K. This enrollment includes a wide range of income groups. But obviously some people choose otherwise for their families. Some have their child in Head Start, which remains an option on Oklahoma. Some have their child in privately funded preschools, which also are an option in Oklahoma. (I should add that some of the publicly-funded preschools in Oklahoma are privately-run as well.) And finally, some parents choose not to enroll their child in any preschool. "Universal" pre-K simply opens up more options for more families, rather than forcing anything on anyone.
Mon, 10/06/2014 - 7:24pm
Tim, I apologize for the delay in my response, I have been traveling. My concerns are heightened when, as in this case, there are claims of benefits from integration, but there is no description of those benefits. That leaves me wonder why the avoidance, is it because it forces people to presume what those benefits might be and then make choices based on the presumption and not necessarily the realities. I am concerned that the people promoting the program for some reason are reaching beyond the initial plan to draw in others for help, as they may not being seeing the success they had justified the program on. I wonder, are they drawing in children in the role of ‘educator’ making the program succeed. I have heard such encouragements for integration in different efforts before and that turned into force integration or very aggressive chastisement of those who were resistant to the encouraged integration as the desired ‘volunteer’ integrations were not achieved. Then as now no one seemed to consider the burden place on the children or other participants being integrated. That is another concern. On a side note, the school of choice activities seems to be something you ignore. In my community, in my neighborhood the parents take their children to what is perceived as more academically successful schools. Unless that isn’t allowed I am not clear on how the integration you are encouraging will happen. If parents are willing to take the kids across town to a particular school system at 5 then why wouldn’t they do the same at 4? What do you see as the benefit of the integration? What unintended consequences have you considered related to the integration? What roles and responsibilities do you expect of the children (‘middle class’) that you want to voluntarily participate in the program? What results do you expect from the program and do you believe those can only be measured after the children graduate the 12th grade?