Food Stamps, Redshirting, and Universal Pre-K

In the span of one week, IPR economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach had three different research studies featured at length in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The New Yorker magazine.

Consequences of Universal Access to Preschool Education

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

The Wall Street Journal covered Schanzenbach's research on the costs and benefits of expanding access to preschool education, which she presented at the Brookings Institution on September 19, with her study co-author Elizabeth Cascio of Dartmouth. The two examined the effects of the introduction of universal preschool programs in Georgia and Oklahoma in the 1990s, finding stark differences in preschool enrollment patterns by family background. Children whose mothers have no more than a high school diploma were much more likely to be enrolled in preschool at age 4. They also find that about half of the enrollees had more-educated mothers and who would have otherwise enrolled in private preschool. This “crowd-out” could cause program costs, paid for by taxpayers, to increase as much as 19 percent overall. See the press release here.

Long-Term Effects of Food Stamps

In his New York Times column, "Free to Be Hungry," Paul Krugman cited a study co-authored by Schanzenbach on the long-term impacts of food stamps. It concluded that adults exposed to food stamps before age 5 exhibit better health as adults. These adults also were less likely to be overweight with lower rates of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The benefits extended beyond health to work outcomes: Women who benefitted from food stamps as children were more likely to graduate from high school, earn more, and rely less on the social safety net as adults than those who did not. Read more about this study and Schanzenbach's other research on food stamps here.

Why it Pays to Be the Youngest Kid in Class

A New Yorker piece on redshirting—holding a child back for an extra year before kindergarten to give them an advantage—also highlighted a study co-authored by Schanzenbach suggesting that this practice can have opposite effects in the long run. In an analysis of Tennessee’s Project STAR (a randomized four-year longitudinal class-size study), the researchers discovered that relatively more mature students didn’t have an academic edge. Instead, when they looked at their progress at the end of kindergarten, and again when they reached middle school, they were worse off in many respects. Not only did they score significantly lower on achievement tests, they were also more likely to have been kept back a year by the time they reached middle school. The less mature students, on the other hand, experienced positive effects from being in a relatively more mature environment. View the full article here.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is an associate professor of human development and social policy and IPR fellow.