Obama misstated the evidence of the potential benefits from universal pre-K

In his SOTU speech, President Obama highlighted some supposed real-world proof supporting his universal pre-K push:

Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children — like Georgia or Oklahoma — studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Well, maybe not. Grover Whitehurst of Brookings (in his second AEIdeas hit of the day):

Hmm? The Georgia universal pre-K program was established in 1996, which would make the first participants about 20 years old. Oklahoma’s began in the late 1990s, so its first participants are even younger. They form more stable families of their own?  As I indicated in my previous piece, the research on the impact of state pre-K programs is very thin and the results are mixed. The largest impacts have always been associated with children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. This argues for targeted, intensive programs, not universal ones.

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