Pre-school for life

In the 1960s, researchers studied whether a high-quality pre-school program, with well-trained teachers and lots of home visiting, would improve the life prospects of poor, black children. It did. For Perry Preschool participants, now middle-aged, the benefits persist, reports Education Week.

The latest findings from one of the longest-running studies on the effects of preschool, released last week, show that the children who attended the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich., four decades ago continue to be more law-abiding, earn higher incomes, and have more stable home lives than similar adults who were not enrolled in the program as youngsters.

At age 40, those who attended the small demonstration program in the 1960s were found to have higher rates of employment and homeownership, and lower rates of illicit drug use and arrests for selling illegal drugs, when compared with the sample of adults who did not attend the classes.

The Perry Pre-school Project became the argument for Head Start, a much lower-quality program that hasn’t produced lasting effects. Few pre-school programs match Perry’s quality, researcher Lawrence J. Schweinhart said. “To get what we got, you’ve got to do what we did.”

The children assigned to the demonstration program participated in small daily classes for two years with certified teachers who led them through the steps of planning their activities, following through with their work, and reviewing what they learned. Those in the control group did not attend preschool at all.

Economists estimate each dollar spent on Perry saved $13, when public costs, such as reduced special education and welfare, and revenues, such as more taxes collected, are factored in.

It’s not that Perry participants excelled in later years. They just beat the control group.

At age 40, 36 percent of those Perry alumni had been arrested five or more times in their lives. But that figure was significantly lower than the 55 percent reported for the control group. And 14 percent of the demonstration group had been arrested for drug crimes, compared with 34 percent of the control group.

Sixty-five percent of Perry participants graduated from high school, compared to 45 percent of the control group.

Currently, very poor children have access to subsidized pre-school programs, though quality varies. Working-class families often find they earn too much for subsidized programs but not enough to pay the market price of pre-school.

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