The rapid growth of knowledge in early childhood development has benefited society and science. Longitudinal studies of the impact of early education programs have been most influential in providing evidence on cost-effective interventions and practices to promote child well-being.
To assess the effects of an early education program in urban schools, the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS) has followed over 1,500 children from early childhood to age 30. The results of the study have provided astounding evidence that certain cost-effective interventions and practices can promote well-being from early childhood into adulthood.
Kids in the Chicago study were born between 1979 and 1980, and 93 percent of them are African-American. They went to one of two types of early education programs: all-day kindergarten in public schools located in low-income neighborhoods or Chicago’s Child-Parent Center (CPC) Education Program.
Located in or close to public elementary schools, the CPC program provides educational and family support services to kids between ages three and nine. Founder Lorraine Sullivan has said that a key goal of the program is to “reach children and parents early, develop children’s language skills and self-confidence, and demonstrate that disadvantaged children, if provided sufficient opportunities, can meet the demands of today’s technological, urban society.”
Recently, we looked at data taken from adult interviews and administrative records for study participants through age 27. After adjusting for factors like family and neighborhood poverty, maternal educational attainment and employment status, and attrition from the study, we found that CPC preschool participation is linked to increased educational attainment, annual earnings, socioeconomic status, and occupational prestige.
Here are some of those findings:
· By age 18, approximately 44 percent of the CPC participants had finished high school, compared to less than 37 percent of the comparison group.
· By age 27, 81.5 percent of the CPC group had completed high school, compared to 75.1 percent of the comparison group.
· By age 27, the rate of four-year college attendance for the CPC group was 31 percent higher than the rate for the comparison group.Those educational advantages appear to have translated to higher economic status in adulthood as well.
· By age 27, CPC participants are estimated to have earned approximately 7 percent more annually than the comparison group.
· CPC participants who attended the preschool for one or more years were less likely to abuse substances and exhibited lower rates of involvement in the criminal and justice system.
The results strengthen evidence that early education can be a cost-effective strategy for promoting social and economic well-being. At an average per pupil cost of $8,952 for 1.5 years of preschool, the CPC program is estimated to generate a per pupil return of $96,985 to program participants, their families, and the rest of society.
That is, for every one dollar invested in CPC preschool, the estimated return is $10.83. The majority of that money is returned to society in terms of averted costs for school remedial services, child welfare services, and criminal behavior. These estimated returns more than covered the initial cost of the program and suggest society is under-investing in high quality early education programs for disadvantaged children.
What makes the program so effective?
The CPC model emphasizes the development of literacy and social skills necessary for school success, as well as intensive family involvement in children’s early learning. The program’s certified teachers, small classes, more than 540 hours of classtime per year, and continuing services in elementary school are key elements that distinguish it from others that don’t show broad and enduring results.
Arthur Reynolds is the director of the Chicago Longitudinal Study and a professor of child development at the University of Minnesota. Judy Temple is an associate professor of economics at the University of Minnesota. Barry White is a researcher at the Chicago Longitudinal Study. In June, they co-authored a report on their research, which was published in Science Magazine.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.