What helps disadvantaged children more: High-quality preschool or parenting classes for Mom and Dad? With $10 million from a hedge-fund billionaire, University of Chicago economists John List and Steven Levitt and Harvard’s Roland Fryer are tracking outcomes for more than 600 children in Chicago Heights, a low-income suburb.
Local families with kids 3 to 5 years old were encouraged to enter a lottery and were randomly sorted into three groups.
Students selected to attend the Griffin school are enrolled in the free, all-day preschool. Children in another group aren’t enrolled in the school, while their guardians take courses at a “parenting academy” and receive cash or scholarships valued at up to $7,000 annually as a reward.
The more than 300 kids in the third contingent receive no benefits — nor do their parents — and serve as a control group.
The children’s test scores, attendance records and graduation rates will be monitored. Later, researchers will track their employment, pay and criminal records, if any.
While early results from the experiment may be published as soon as this year, the project has money to follow the students “until they die,” List says.
The Griffin experiment may show that the U.S. doesn’t spend enough on helping parents, List says. “We have too many eggs in the kid basket,” says List, himself a father of five. “We need to spend much more time and many more resources on helping parents.”
We know more about how to set up preschools than we know about how to help parents do a better job.