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New Study: Preschool's Benefits Extend for Generations

Published Date: 06/13/19

We’ve long know about the benefits of high-quality early education on children, but now we know about the intergenerational effects of it, thanks to James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist. He recently published a work paper for the University of Chicago showing the impact preschool has on your children’s children. Crazy!

The Herald-Tribune reported on this and interviewed Heckman for their article. “It shows not only does pre-K have around a 12% rate of return but it is probably higher if you factor in its effects on the second generation…We found there were fewer men committing crime among the original participants, which was a major boost to family earnings. They also had more stable marriages, which translated to healthier families because of the double income,” he said.

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An early childhood study was conducted in 1962 called the Perry Preschool Project. The original participants are all now in their mid-50s, with adult children. The study found that among the group, there was a lower crime rate, higher full-time employment, and a significant impact on health and education.

The Perry Preschool Project was developed originally to help determine if quality early childhood education could increase the IQ’s of children who have below-average intelligence and are economically disadvantaged. There were 123 black children in this study, all between the ages of 3 and 4. They were divided into two separate groups where half of them received a weekly home visit from their teachers along with attending the Perry Pre-K center for a few hours a day, while the others did not.

The children who went to the Perry Preschool and received home visits spent at least three times longer with married parents, they had fewer instances of illegal drug use, arrest, school suspensions, and they were more likely to be employed full-time.

Louise Derman-Sparks, who was one of the original teachers form the Perry Preschool, had an interview with Emily Hanford of American Public Media. She states that to most people observing the treated group, it looks like the children spent most of their morning just playing. The difference between normal play and the control group’s play was that it was carefully structured and all of the materials were set out intentionally by the teachers. This was all to establish a thought-provoking environment.

survive the transition to preschool

Heckman denied the popular notion that the zip code a child lives in determines the lifelong outcomes of their life. He insists that family and home environments impact the children more than the location of where they grow up. Research backs up the notion that the children in the treated group of the Perry Preschool Project excelled in various aspects of life regardless of where they grew up, even if it was a neighborhood that was worse off than where the control group children lived. He even dismisses the idea of fadeout; which means that the benefits each child had from their early education would eventually expire as they aged. He believes that positive outcomes at an early age lead to better social-emotional skills.

Heckman believes that well-intentioned people look only at test scores, but test scores only make up a small part of a successful life. The children who were sent to the Perry Preschool are more engaged in life. He also suggested that rather than focusing on universal pre-k, as many governors are doing now, efforts should be concentrated on the most at-risk children where it can be used a tool with greater impact, like helping to address poverty in the long run.

We’ll quickly see if states move forward with universal pre-k, and hopefully, we see even more programs in place to bring quality early education to the most vulnerable communities, as we now know the lasting impact it has.

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