Fall 2017 - 60675 - PA 680PA – Policy Research Project | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Fall 2017 - 60675 - PA 680PA – Policy Research Project

Evaluating the Impact of PreK3

Early childhood is a crucial period for healthy development. Children who experience a stimulating, lower-stress and loving environment in their first five years typically have better social, cognitive, health and economic outcomes throughout their lifespan. A key early indicator of future success is whether a child shows up to Kindergarten ready to learn, meaning by age five, the child has the necessary cognitive, developmental and social-emotional skills that will allow the child to learn and reach her full potential. Unfortunately, children born to parents with lower levels of education or resources typically are less well prepared for school, and the gaps in outcomes that exist at school entry are mirrored throughout their schooling career and into adulthood.

A key policy lever to better prepare children, particularly disadvantaged children, for school is preKindergarten (preK). Although the results are mixed, the research generally suggests that children who experience high-quality preK are better prepared for school than their counterparts who do not have preK. Several states have adopted universal or widespread public preK in response to this evidence.

Austin Independent School District (AISD) is one of the first large school districts in the nation to push further and offer public preK to 3 year olds (PK3). The hope is that two years of high quality preK will better prepare students for Kindergarten than only one. This Policy Research Project will evaluate this claim.

With AISD as our client, this PRP will conduct the first evaluation in the nation that will determine whether children who experience two years of public preK (at ages 3 and 4) are better prepared for Kindergarten than their counterparts who experience preK only at age 4. A key outcome measure of school readiness is “receptive vocabulary,” which is highly predictive of subsequent school achievement. In this second year of the evaluation, we will answer two research questions:

  1. Do children entering preK at age 4, who also had preK at age 3, have higher receptive vocabularies than their counterparts entering preK who did not have preK3?
  2. Does the receptive vocabulary of children who have preK3 grow over the course of the school year at a rate faster than expected for children their age?

Requirements and Expectations

Students will:

  • Learn about early child development.
  • Learn about early childhood interventions, particularly preKindergarten, and assess the evidence in support and opposition to the policy.
  • Develop an evaluation plan and tracking system to manage the logistics of the evaluation.
  • Conduct vocabulary assessments (known as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT)) on up to 400 3 and 4 year olds. Students must pass a background check with AISD to work directly with the students.
  • Score and record the PPVT assessments.
  • Statistically analyze the difference in scores between preK students who did and did not have preK3, and the growth in scores between fall and spring for preK3 students.
  • Write one policy memo on the evidence of preK and preK3.
  • Write at least two policy memos sharing the results of the findings to the two analyses above.
  • Prepare and deliver a presentation to AISD stakeholders on the findings.

Importantly, this is not a class in the normal sense of the word. This is a project for a client. Although a syllabus is provided, students should expect for the aims and deliverables of the project to be amended over the course of the year. A level of ambiguity is inherent in all client-based work and experiential learning. Students who embrace this as an opportunity will be more successful than students who expect a clear vision from start to end. Additionally, professionalism is essential. Our class will be representing the LBJ School and me, and maintaining our reputation of being world class is imperative. Students will be expected to spend a minimum of nine hours outside of class on the project each week, which could include conducting student assessments.

Requirements and Expectations

Requirements and grading criteria will be established with input from the students, with some exceptions. The professor will assign students tasks throughout the semester that are relevant to the project. Students will work in teams and individually. The largest portion of a student’s grade will be determined by the student’s level of professionalism; that is that the student embraces this opportunity as a “job” rather than a class, and puts in the effort that any of us would with our employer.


Zigler, E., Gilliam, W., Barnett, W.S. editors. (2011). The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies and Issues. Brookes Publishing. Baltimore, MD.


Other reading materials will be assigned and listed on Canvas; students will help create the reading list.

SRH 3.216/3.219