Get Smart Fast, vol. 20

Key Finding #1: A Georgia preschool program improved students’ kindergarten readiness, but the academic benefits appeared to fade, and sometimes even reverse, by late elementary school.

Why it matters: This “fade-out” effect is a common finding in evaluations of preschool programs and other learning initiatives aimed at young children. We need to understand why it happens if we want investments in early learning to pay off.

Key Finding #2: When one student gets placed in algebra in eighth grade, they often see substantial benefits. When schools systematically extend algebra to eighth-grade students who didn’t previously have access, they often see negative effects. A new paper argues this is because the individual student gains access to a higher-caliber group of peers, but those effects aren’t possible when schools shift algebra to eighth grade en masse.

Why it matters: The role of so-called peer effects is an often-ignored but essential factor in debates about Advanced Placement, middle school algebra, and other forms of academic acceleration.

Key Finding #3: Students attending fully online college classes fared worse than those who met in-person regularly.

Why it matters: Thoughtful blending of online and in-person instruction will be crucial as more colleges embrace competency-based learning. The same is true at the K-12 level.

More Findings

Children expelled from preschool are likely to face other risk factors later in life.

Much of the increase in American college attainment has been driven by older people going back to school for their degrees.

As Michigan districts pared back teacher tenure and added performance-based evaluations, they didn’t increase teacher salaries.

First- and second-born children pay a price in cognitive development when their parents choose to have more children. But younger children in lager families tend to be better behaved.

The wage penalty for working in a career outside one’s chosen course of study appears to be growing.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)