published Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Study helps Tennessee lawmaker Bill Dunn slam pre-k

  • photo
    Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville
    Contributed Photo from AP Photo/Erik Schelzig

NASHVILLE — A Republican lawmaker says a final report on the state’s pre-kindergarden program supports his view that the initiative “may be the largest hoax ever perpetuated on the people of Tennessee.”

In a news release, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, a longtime pre-k skeptic, seized on Page 6 of the Strategic Research Group’s study.

It says that “for students in grades 3-5, analyses have found either no significant effect of pre-k participation on assessment scores, or, in some cases, have found that students who attended pre-k, on average, score lower than their nonpre-k counterparts on some assessments.”

“People make big promises, but nothing big is showing up in this report at all,” Dunn said in an interview, charging pre-k is needlessly wasting funds better spent in areas such as teacher pay. “We were sold a silver bullet. It turns out it’s made of lead.”

But in the report to the state comptroller, the Strategic Research Group specifically warns that “to consider this study a summative evaluation of the effectiveness of the pre-k program would be unfounded and unfair.”

The report notes the state’s pre-k program “experienced significant changes” over a 10-year period, going from a pilot project involving 600 low-income 4-year-olds in 1998-99 to a statewide program with18,000 children in the 2008-09 school year.

There were also “substantive” curriculum changes, the report noted, adding that “to evaluate the program as it exists today on the basis of outcomes experienced by students who participated in the pre-k program five or 10 years ago would be an unsound approach.”

Researchers reported that participants “do show evidence of better performance in kindergarten when compared to students who did not participate in the program.”

It notes the effect was more pronounced for lower-income children as measured by a common measure of poverty, participation in the free-and-reduced lunch price program.

But the report notes many schools do not test children in kindergarten. It is not until third grade that tests are given to all students, the report notes.

Moreover, researchers said that “arguably, the greatest limitation of this study is that educational records do not indicate whether students participated in any pre-k program other than Tennessee’s pre-k.”

Dunn was taken aback when a reporter read him portions of the report’s conclusions, demanding to know, “What are you reading from?”

“They’re saying this report doesn’t really mean anything so we should put more money in it?” Dunn said in seeming disbelief. “Is that what you’re saying?”

Dunn said the findings on the lack of long-term effect are supported by other studies, and he criticized former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who expanded the state’s pre-k program statewide, for overselling program benefits.

He said proponents have claimed that each dollar of spending on pre-K produces $16 of benefits. Some supporters have claimed it has had an impact on murder rates, Dunn said.

“To me, there are a lot of places in education that could use some funding, whether you’re paying teachers who are performing well,” Dunn said. “There’s some kids who don’t have books. And we’re putting a whole lot of time and money and effort and asking the taxpayers to pay for something that is not getting the glowing report that we were promised.”

A top Research Study Group official did not return a reporter’s call on Tuesday.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
TNed_reform said...

"a longtime pre-k skeptic"...

Maybe his mind is already made up, and he gets points from his political base for bashing Pre-k...but I'd be curious to ask Mr. Dunn what he thinks about early childhood development and education for his own 5 children.

from the Pre-K report itself: "Arguably, the greatest limitation of this study is that educational records do not indicate whether students participated in any Pre-K program other than Tennessee’s Pre-K"

So what are we really comparing? We don't know if the other kids went to Pre-k or not. TN Pre-k is providing a number of students with early development and literacy that they otherwise wouldn't have. It's clear from Vanderbilt's study that Pre-K is making a difference.

The Strategic Research Group's report found that some of the gains fade out by 3rd grade, again, not against a control group of kids. Is that more a problem of K-3 and the early elementary teachers?

Also, to emphasize -- we're measuring test scores -- not social/emotional indicators -- and long term indications if that student will graduate high school or how many crimes he or she will commit.

Gets me back to point #1 -- if early literacy and cognitive development is important for Mr. Dunn and his children, why not every child in Tennessee, especially those who might not be as privileged to be in the income bracket of Mr. Dunn?

June 8, 2011 at 1:54 p.m.
TNSCPWU said...

The most definitive study of preschool, the Head Start Impact Study and Follow-up, 2000–2011 showed virtually all academic effects disappear by the end of 1st grade. Some preschool programs may provide some (most likely short term) gains for some children and if money grew on trees we would all happily agree to provide it for all TN children, however as that is not the case we need to use our limited funds to support programs that provide a more lasting and measurable impact, such as services/programs which help children get up to grade level, prevent them from dropping out, help troubled or at risk youth or better prepare students for college level work (so they don't drop out of college) rather than fund a questionable program that happens to have powerful or noisy sponsors.

June 8, 2011 at 2:06 p.m.
Haiku said...

I'm not Republican, but I have to agree with Rep. Dunn. Not only is Pre-K a waste, it can also be very damaging to young children at that age. The same goes with state run daycares, where anyone can operate one even without a license as long as they don't go over a certain limit of children. I believe separating young children from their parents at earlier and earlier ages, throwing them into ill operated daycares and headstart programs is why we're seeing so many young people acting out in violent and anti-social behavior these days. Especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are more likely to be mistreated, neglected and abused in state paid daycares and Head Start.

Notice: There's been an increase in youth violence especially those living in poor communities since state funded daycares were created to force mothers receiving AFDC off the program. These outbursts of violence and angry youth later one, some experts believe, appears to be directly tied to when these programs were adapted.

A form of separation anxiety that manifest itself later in preteen to teen years? Possibly.

June 8, 2011 at 2:18 p.m.
sangaree said...

If at all possible a child below the age of five should be only left with the parent/s or a trusted family member. Most everyone I've ever known who worked in a daycare or one of these Headstart programs have mentioned some form of neglect or actual abuse that took place against a child. Especially poor children.

June 8, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.
mom4 said...
If the world was a wonderful place and moms got to stay home and take care of there children then there would be no reason to have Pre-k programs. These are not the day's of "Leave it to Beaver" or "Andy Griffith". Aunt Bea doesn't live in every household. Mom's work!
I am raising four children that I have legal guardianship of. I cannot quit work to stay at home with the children because there is no funding to help a relative caregiver. 
Three of the children went to head-start,one did not. He went straight into Kindergarten not knowing his Alphabet,how to write his name,obey the teacher or anything else that is expected. He had a very difficult time.The other three have done very well. I couldn't be happier with what my children and I have experienced with the program. 
So all you rich people that want to stop this program need to come down off your "high horse". Look around,not everyone can afford to stay home,if they did you would just be here next week calling them lazy because they don't work! So without this program you can expect to have to pay out twice as much for stay at home moms.
June 8, 2011 at 11:06 p.m.
Beverly_woodall said...

How many of u commenting have had children go through the pre-k program. My daughter went to pre k and just graduated kindergarten. Prek is wonderful she is reading things far beyond kindergarten level. The effects may not last forever but it really give children a jump start. When the start pre k they can write all their abc's and know the sound of all the letters so they can sound out words. The testing standards for schools are much more than when we attended and every little bit helps.

June 8, 2011 at 11:32 p.m.
reekajean said...

Are we talking about Head Start or the new elementary-school based Pre-K for kids who have IEPs? Because with the former, I agree somewhat with Dunn. Academically, Head Start has been proven time and time again to not have lasting effects. Sending your kid to Head Start at 4 isn't going to make him/her a genius, nor will they necessarily be "above average" by the time they're in older elementary grades.

Of course, that may have more to do with the elementary grades themselves than Head Start.

However, the new elementary based pre-k that is available through the Department of Education for kids who have IEPs (special needs) is a little different than the typical head start or pre-k class. The kids in THAT particular Pre-K program are learning a host of social, vocational and adaptable skills that will prepare them for being in a mainstreamed, regular classroom environment when they're ready for Kindergarten. Autistic kids and other kids with special needs are benefiting greatly from the speech/language, social and occupational therapy that they're receiving in the classroom environment starting at 3 and 4. It's another form of early intervention which is, as far as I can tell, really succeeding.

So yeah, it just depends on what Dunn is specifically talking about.

June 8, 2011 at 11:53 p.m.
brokentoe said...

America's children have lost their ability to be spontaneous, creative and naturally curious by being placed in a controlled atmosphere at too young an age. Children weren't designed to sit still at such an early age for long periods of time, or to be disciplined by multiple hands that leads to confusing the child about discipline.

June 9, 2011 at 12:05 p.m.
TNSCPWU said...

Dunn is referring to a study just released by the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller contracted Strategic Research Group (available here: The study assesses the Impact of Tennessee’s Pre-K Program & refers to Tennessee’s state-funded Pilot and Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program. @Mom4 it is not that there isn’t a place for prek for some families such as yours, only that it has no lasting affect and if we in TN really care about helping children we should spend the tens of millions wasted on this program in ways that actually do help children.

June 9, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.