In July the Pioneer Institute released a study praising AppleTree Early Learning Centers, based in the District of Columbia, and urging states around the country to adopt AppleTree’s “Every Child Ready” curriculum. The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado reviewed the report and released their conclusions this week:

Unfortunately this report contributes little evidence on the efficacy of the AppleTree model or the preschool charter mechanism generally for the delivery of high-quality preschool to large numbers of children and families. It provides some intriguing anecdotes and data on test scores. However, no data are presented on actual implementation of the model, and we do not know its cost. Neither the research design nor the statistical analysis are sufficiently rigorous to substantiate any claim that the AppleTree model is particularly effective.

The original report, entitled “Seeds of Achievement,” notes that AppleTree students score above average relative to their D.C. Public School peers after two years. Reviewers note, however, that there is no control group for comparison, and Pioneer explores no option besides AppleTree. Nonetheless, the Pioneer report uses their uncontrolled, two-year data to urge wide adoption of the AppleTree model. In support of this determination, “Seeds of Achievement” cites AppleTree President and CEO Jack McCarthy, who “believes not only that AppleTree’s model can be brought to scale, but also that doing so could be one of the only ways to close the achievement gap.”

Reviewers summarize:

The report fails to make the case that the model is unusually effective or that charter status is critical to any success it does have. While the AppleTree model may well be as effective as the Pioneer authors suggest, this report lacks rigorous evidence regarding the model’s development, implementation, cost, and effectiveness…. Sample sizes, attrition, and statistical methods are unreported, and no statistical tests of significance appear to have been conducted. Preschool models with rigorous evidence of high levels of effectiveness have been developed and are currently implemented by public school systems where adequate funding has been made available. We will not know whether AppleTree can add to the preschool policy debates without more rigorous evaluation of the program and its effects.


“Seeds of Achievement” is authored by Cara Stillings Candal, a senior research fellow at Pioneer Institute and director of research at the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education. Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization based in Massachusetts. Its school reform focus centers around “high quality academic standards and a portfolio of public and private school choice options.” NAATE is a nonprofit teacher institute funded by the Bezos, Gates, and Walton Foundations and the Carnegie Corporation.

The Review of Seeds of Achievement is authored by W. Steven Barnett and Cynthia E. Lamy of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. The Institute is funded by the Carnegie Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Education, New Jersey based philanthropists, and the Carnegie Corporation.

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