Title I Preschool Education:

More Children Served, but Gauging Effect on School Readiness Difficult

HEHS-00-171: Published: Sep 20, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's Title I program for preschool education, focusing on: (1) the extent to which title I funds are used to support education or developmentally appropriate activities for preschool children, aged birth to 5 years; and (2) what is known about the effectiveness of title I-funded programs for preschool children in preparing them for school.

GAO noted that: (1) during the 1999-2000 school year, an estimated 17 percent of the school districts that received title I funds spent an estimated $407 million on preschool services, making title I second only to Head Start in its level of federal preschool education funding; (2) the remaining 83 percent that did not use their funds to support preschool education services cited, among other things, a greater need to use title I funds for older children; (3) school districts used their funds to serve an estimated 313,000 preschool children--equal to about 8 percent of the children who will eventually enter kindergarten; (4) almost all of these children were between the ages of 3 and 5, and they received a variety of services funded with title I as well as other federal, state, and local funding; (5) children were served in every state, with Texas serving the largest number of children; and (6) the Department of Education lacks the information to measure title I's effect on children's school readiness, but it may be able to structure its design of a planned title I preschool study to collect such information.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2001, the Department of Education issued a request for proposals soliciting proposals for a 5-year, national study of Title I-funded early childhood programs. One of the study's purposes was to evaluate the extent to which Title I contributes to academic and non-academic outcomes for participants. The study proposal specified that the study respond to the GAO recommendation by evaluating the effectiveness of Title I early childhood education programs. Education expected to award the contract for this study in 2001, but the agency was reorganized, with responsibility for the Title I study moving to the new evaluation unit in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). OERI awarded the contract to Westat, which recently surveyed 2,300 schools to detect the prevalence of Title I schools with Title I-funded preschool programs, and to determine the feasibility of conducting an impact study within those Title I-funded programs.

    Recommendation: Given the large federal investment in title I and the current attention on the importance of early childhood education programs, the Secretary of Education should determine if it is feasible to isolate and measure title I's effect as part of Education's planned preschool study. If feasible, the Secretary should ensure that the final study design is structured to isolate and measure title I's effect.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


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