A Study of Public Prekindergarten in the District of Columbia

young woman teaching a pre kindergarten class

Public preschool is a leading remedy for closing achievement and opportunity gaps, and the field has good data on how preschool can improve language development and literacy, math skills, and future earnings. Yet, despite a growing evidence base, research on preschool is limited by its focus on small-scale and outdated programs, select groups of students, and analytic approaches that vary in rigor and current relevance.

The DC Prekindergarten Study offers the first independent look at DC public prekindergarten, a program that boasts the country’s highest preschool enrollment rate and serves a diverse group of 3- and 4-year-old students. Because the program uses a centralized admissions lottery, this study is also one of a small number of evaluations that seek to measure the effectiveness of preschool through randomized experiment. Study priorities include assessing outcomes for low-income students and students of color and identifying differences in program quality and impact across the District.

The Urban Institute is engaged in understanding how families choose, enroll, and participate in public prekindergarten and exploring the prekindergarten context and climate in DC. A data-sharing agreement with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and My School DC provides the information necessary to examine preschool selection and several student outcomes, such as these:

  • attendance and absenteeism
  • in-grade retention
  • special education status
  • math and English language arts scores in third grade

Plans for the future center on these topics:

  • collecting citywide data on kindergarten readiness
  • documenting families’ decisionmaking processes for preschool and later schooling
  • identifying the elements that improve preschool quality and effectiveness

The DC Prekindergarten Study began in early 2019 and is ongoing. Preliminary findings will be shared on this page as they become available.