A systematic review of the literature (1965–2022) and meta-analysis were undertaken to compare the school readiness skills of children participating in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K) or Head Start. Seven quasi-experimental studies met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis and 38 effect sizes were analyzed. Results indicated no reliable meta-analytic effect in relation to children’s school readiness skills overall nor in relation to language, mathematics, or social-behavioral skills specifically. A small, positive meta-analytic effect favoring public pre-K compared to Head Start participation was found in relation to children’s emergent literacy skills (Hedges’ g = 0.17). Strategies are discussed to further equate the benefits of public pre-K and Head Start programming by facilitating greater cross-sector collaboration.
Students’ level of academic skills at school entry are a strong predictor of later academic success, and focusing on improving these skills during the preschool years has been a priority during the past ten years. Evidence from two prior nationally representative studies indicated that incoming kindergarteners’ math and literacy skills were higher in 2010 than 1998, but no national studies have examined trends since 2010. This study examines academic skills at kindergarten entry from 2010 and 2017 using data from over 2 million kindergarten students. Results indicated kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but that inequalities at school entry by race/ethnicity and school poverty level have decreased during this period.