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New Study Shows Generational Benefits of Preschool

A long-running study released a report today that shows the lasting benefits of early childhood education (ECE) – not only for individual students, but for their children as well. The study underscores the Educator’s recent feature story on ECE.

The study is based on the Perry Preschool Project, which began in the 1960s outside of Detroit and involved 3- and 4-year-old children in an experiment to see if high-quality preschool could raise IQ scores. The kids’ IQ scores went up initially, but soon leveled off with those of their peers.

But the Perry research continued – researchers also followed the children into their adult years and tracked their persistence to graduation, their job retention, physical health and healthy relationships. Perry Preschool children did better on all of these measures than a randomly selected group of their peers who did not attend preschool.


“We’ve shown that improving the family lives of these children does make a difference.”


James Heckman, Perry Preschool Program

Researchers also followed the children of the program participants, who are now in their 50s. The May 14, 2019, report,summarized in the Hechinger Report, shows that “67 percent of the adult children of Perry participants completed high school without a suspension, compared to just 40 percent of the children of non-participants. Sixty percent have never been suspended, addicted or arrested, compared to 40 percent of the children of non-participants. And 59 percent were employed full-time or self-employed, compared to 42 percent of the children of non-participants. “

This “proves that these early life improvements can carry on to second generations,” said James Heckman a Nobel Laureate and economist at the University of Chicago who has led the Perry Preschool Program for the last decade. “We’ve shown that improving the family lives of these children does make a difference.”

The new generation of study subjects are in hundreds, outnumbering the original program (60 children in preschool, plus another 60 from the same neighborhood who did not attend preschool). Boys born to fathers who attended preschool benefitted the most, the Hechinger Report notes: Among those older than 18, boys of Perry participants spent 15 times more of their childhood with stable married parents than the children of non-participants. These boys were also better able to persist in school and relationships, stay gainfully employed and avoid criminal activity and incarceration.

Heckman observed that the one consistent finding of successful preschools is that they “do exactly what successful parents do”: find where kids are at, take them to the next step, allow them to make mistakes and engage them in a learning experience every day.

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