A recent report argues that a Washington, D.C., charter pre-school is particularly successful. The report then seeks to leverage that contention as strong support for a recommendation to open many more charter pre-schools nationwide, as an optional way to expand access to early education.
But a review of the report, written by experts on early childhood education, cautions that it fails to make the case that the D.C. charter under study is unusually effective – or that its charter status is the driving force for any success it may be having.
W. Steven Barnett and Cynthia E. Lamy, both of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, reviewed Seeds of Achievement: AppleTree’s Early Childhood D.C. Charter Schools, by Cara Stillings Candal and published by the Pioneer Institute.
The review was undertaken for the Think Twice think tank review project, of the National Education Policy Center, which has published the review today. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
Barnett, an economist and Rutgers professor, is director of NIEER. Lamy is a developmental and educational psychologist and research fellow with NIEER, where her research focuses especially on children at risk of academic failure due to the many influences of poverty.
“While the AppleTree model may well be as effective as the Pioneer authors suggest, this report lacks rigorous evidence regarding the model’s development, implementation, cost and effectiveness,” write Barnett and Lamy in their review.
The report bases its argument for the program’s effectiveness on pre-tests and post-tests, but its lacks a comparison group as a control and is silent on whether the children enrolled in the program are representative of the larger local population or comparable to children enrolled in other preschool programs, the reviewers write.
“Sample sizes, attrition, and statistical methods are unreported, and no statistical tests of significance appear to have been conducted,” write Barnett and Lamy. Additionally, they observe, the report fails to demonstrate that any success at Appletree is attributable to its charter status.
By contrast, they point out, there already exist public-school-based preschool models shown through rigorous evidence to be highly effective.
“We will not know whether AppleTree can add to the preschool policy debates without more rigorous evaluation of the program and its effects,” they conclude.