This week, researchers from the University of Maryland and Wellesley College released a report that finds that the learning gains young children experience from watching Sesame Street are on par with what students learn in preschool.

From The Washington Post:

The researchers also say those effects probably come from Sesame Street’s focus on presenting viewers with an academic curriculum, heavy on reading and math, that would appear to have helped prepare children for school.

While it might seem implausible that a TV show could have such effects, the results build on Nixon-era government studies that found big short-term benefits in watching the show, along with years of focus-group studies by the team of academic researchers who help write “Sesame Street” scripts. Several outside researchers have reviewed the study, and none are known to have questioned its results.

As my toddler channels the Count when totaling the number of grapes he has in his bowl each day (ha, ha, haaaa, as the Count would say), it’s easy to see the impact of Sesame Street’s strong educational components.

But is Elmo enough?

The study’s authors do point out that preschool—Head Start, in particular, which is targeted toward low-income children— is designed to deliver more than just academics. It also comes with access to medical and dental services, family supports and opportunities for socialization that you can’t get from your television set.

That message, however, got a little buried in the Washington Post story titled, “Study: Kids can learn as much from ‘Sesame Street’ as from preschool.”

“There’s a lot of development that happens in an early education setting,” said Rob Thompson, executive director of the children’s advocacy group NC Child. “Children develop important social and emotional skills in pre-kindergarten that help success in school and in all aspects of life.”

North Carolina has been a beacon that other states look toward for how to do preschool right. The return on investing in NC pre-kindergarten is estimated to be $9 for every dollar spent, according to the N.C. Justice Center.*

High- quality preschool can increase a child’s performance in the early school grades and boost high school graduation rates, improve chances of landing a job later in life, and reduce criminal behavior, among other benefits, according to researchers at the Carolina Institute for Public Policy.

But over the past several years, the state has steadily decreased its support for pre-kindergarten programs that target at-risk youth by reducing the number of pre-K slots available to at-risk children.

“Reduced access to early learning for at-risk youth means that many of these children are likely to begin their primary education lagging their peers,” according the Justice Center report.

Wellesley College’s Phil Levine, co-author of the Sesame Street study, emphasized to NC Policy Watch that the children’s show is a great way to augment a high quality preschool program — not a replacement.

“It’s a mistake to think of these things as one or the other,” said Levine, when comparing Sesame Street to preschool. “What you get in terms of the long term effects from pre-K are partly academic and partly nonacademic—and those nonacademic effects are really important.”

Levine says when it comes to fighting poverty and inequality, there’s no magic bullet.

“The more tools in our arsenal, the better—and Sesame Street is just another good one.”

*NC Policy Watch is a project of the N.C. Justice Center.


The reviews are coming in as more and more people wade through the details of the House budget proposal. Here’s another sobering take from the executive director of NC Child:

Tiny plates and the House budget
By Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child

One of the most simplistic reheated bits of diet advice ever sold in the grocery checkout line is to eat your regular food, but to use a small plate and a small fork.

You’ll think your plate is full!! If you go back for seconds you won’t overeat so much!


The latest state budget for children’s services seems to have a few similar beliefs baked in–the key one being that before long you’ll believe that the plate in front of you is a regular-sized plate. Even though plates on your right and left are normal, you will not notice the one in front of you is small. Substitute ”appropriation” for “plate” and you get the point.

Set the budget table with tiny plates for many children’s programs and there you have the post-recession and post-2013 tax cut reality. The legislature fundamentally re-set the state’s budget priorities with tax cuts in 2013 and funding has not reached pre-recession levels since, although the state has grown in population and investment needs.

For instance, North Carolina’s premiere early childhood education programs, Smart Start and NC Pre-K, saw their funding reduced by 20% during the recession and have never seen that funding restored. Now, despite a growing population of children, we’re able to provide fewer of them with the strong start they need. Read More

Bill de Blasio

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – Image: Official website of the City of New York

In 2014, there are lots of basic public structures and social services that Americans, like the inhabitants in other advanced countries, ought to have a right to take for granted. Paid sick days, paid maternity leave, and free higher education, for example, need to be on any such list.

And here’s another one: free, universal, public pre-Kindergarten.

Fortunately, at least one important American jurisdiction is doing something about it. As this recent New York Times editorial notes, the city of New York kicked off an enormously ambitious program this week to provide public pre-K to 50,000 four-year-olds:

The start of public school on Thursday in New York City should be the usual merry scramble of chattering children and stressed (or relieved) parents. There will also be something new: a fresh crop of 4-year-olds, more than 50,000, embarking on the first day of free, full-day, citywide, city-run prekindergarten.

It’s worth pausing to note what an accomplishment this is. Fifty thousand is a small city’s worth of children, each getting a head start on a lifetime of learning. It is so many families saving the cost of day care or private prekindergarten. It is a milestone of education reform.

The editorial goes on to heap praise on New York mayor Bill de Blasio who made the launch of such a program a key plank in his campaign platform and who now despite plenty of critics — including the Times editorial page — has now made good on his promise.

Let’s hope the program is a rousing success and that, like so many other trends that started in the Big Apple, it catches on all over (even in North Carolina) ASAP.


In case you missed them. here are two responses worth checking out this morning to last week’s state Supreme Court’s decision on pre-K and the General Assembly’s typically thickheaded response. First, there is this excellent editorial from this morning’s Fayetteville Observer:

“North Carolina’s legislative leaders, having stepped out of the path of an oncoming train, now wish to be hailed for their splendid judgment. Read More


Graduation capsToday’s good news about North Carolina’s rising high school graduation rate serves to highlight several important facts that ought to be taken into account as the public and state leaders debate the future of our public schools. Here are five:

#1 – There are no “quick fixes” in a giant system like the North Carolina public schools. The latest encouraging numbers are no more the result of recent legislative actions than, say, improved traffic flow on the interstate highway system is. To improve outcomes in such massive systems takes sustained attention and investments over a period of many years.

#2- The new results are, therefore, quite clearly the result of many years of hard work by a lot of people. At the core of the success, however, was the widespread acknowledgement by virtually all stakeholders — elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, teachers, parents, advocates etc… — that the state had a big problem and that something had to be done.  The widespread acceptance and discussion of this fact led, over time, to more and more people talking about the problem and more and more people wanting and trying to do something about it.  Many ideas undoubtedly flopped, but over time, the cumulative effect of lots of creative thinking and sustained attention has born some excellent fruit.

#-3 – The work to improve graduation rates starts before a child even enters school. Read More