Early childhood education can yield short- and long-term educational, economic, and societal benefits, underscoring the value of expanding publicly funded preschool education, New York University Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa outlines in a research brief released today.
"Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education," authored by Yoshikawa, a professor NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and other early childhood experts, reviews existing scholarship on why early skills matter, which children benefit from preschool, the short- and long-term effects of preschool programs on children's school readiness and life outcomes, the importance of program quality, and the costs versus benefits of preschool education.
The findings, which offer a roadmap for broad, quality implementation of preschool programs, expand upon studies that have long served as barometers for the value of early childhood education: the Abecedarian Project, which traces back to the 1970s, and the Perry Preschool Project, which commenced in the 1960s.
"Scientific evidence on the impacts of early childhood education has progressed well beyond exclusive reliance on the evaluations of the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs," says Yoshikawa, the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor in NYU Steinhardt's Department of Applied Psychology and lead author of the brief. "More recent evidence tells us a great deal about what works in early education and how early education might be improved. The combination of evidence-based curricula and in-classroom coaching is particularly promising and has been implemented at scale with large positive effects on children."
"The recent evidence includes evaluations of city-wide public preschool programs such as those in Tulsa and Boston," according to Deborah Phillips, professor of psychology at Georgetown University and a co-author of the brief. "Evaluations of these programs tell us that preschool programs implemented at scale can be high quality, can benefit children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and can reduce disparities."
The evaluation of the Boston preschool program was conducted by Yoshikawa and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan and was recently published in the journal Child Development.
The research brief was funded by the Foundation for Child Development and produced in collaboration with the Society for Research in Child Development.
According to the authors, the current science and evidence base on early childhood education shows that:
• Large-scale public preschool programs that are of high quality can have a substantial impact on children's early learning. For example, preschool systems in Tulsa and Boston have produced gains of between half and a full year of additional learning in reading and math.
• Quality preschool education is a profitable investment. Cost-benefit estimates based on older, intensive interventions, such as the Perry Preschool Program, as well as contemporary, large-scale public preschool programs, such as the Chicago Child-Parent Centers and Tulsa's preschool program, range from three to seven dollars saved (e.g., higher earnings) for participants for every dollar spent.
• Quality preschool education can benefit middle-class children as well as disadvantaged children. The evidence is clear that middle-class children can benefit substantially and that benefits outweigh the costs for children from middle-income as well as those from low-income families. However, children from low-income families benefit more and therefore universal preschool can reduce disparities in skills at school entry.
• Long-term benefits occur despite convergence of test scores. As children from low-income families in preschool evaluation studies are followed into elementary school, differences between those who participated in preschool and those who did not on tests of academic achievement are reduced. However, evidence from both small-scale, intensive interventions and Head Start suggest that despite this convergence on test scores, there are long-term effects on important societal outcomes such as years of education completed, earnings, and reduced crime and teen pregnancy.
The authors of the research brief will be discussing their findings at an upcoming event, "Too Much Evidence to Ignore: New Findings on the Impact of Quality Preschool at Scale," which will take place on October 16, at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.
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