Education

Investment in early learning brings higher returns

Students at Jamison Street Preschool in west Pensacola engage in center-based, interactive learning throughout the day. Credit: Shannon Nickinson.

A new study by Nobel-winning economist James Heckman shows that the return on investing in high-quality early education is greater than those previously set for preschool programs serving 3-to-4 year olds.

The new findings, released this week in a working paper titled, “The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” show high-quality programs can deliver 13 percent per child.

In past work, Heckman’s research showed a 7 percent to 10 percent return on investment based on analysis of the Perry Preschool program.

“The data speaks for itself,” said Heckman, an economist and director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago. “Investing in the continuum of learning from birth to age 5 not only impacts each child, but it also strengthens our country’s workforce today and prepares future generations to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

Research increasingly shows that investments in early education provide significant benefits to children, families and society as a whole, increasing economic growth and promoting greater opportunity over time. This study describes and analyzes the benefits investing in high-quality prekindergarten programs for children from ages 0 to 5.

The groundbreaking study also shines a spotlight on the importance of quality early education programs in reducing taxpayer costs down the road and preparing the workforce for competition in a global market.

Among the goals of the Studer Community Institute is to improve the community’s overall quality of life, and a critical part of it includes having children ready and prepared for school.

Of nearly 3,000 kindergartners in Escambia County schools this year, more than one-third of them — about 1,000 children — were not prepared academically or socially for kindergarten, based on data analysis by the Florida Office of Early Learning.

Investing in high-quality prekindergarten can help achieve many social and economic development objectives including strengthening economic growth, increasing incomes, creating jobs, reducing poverty, alleviating inequality, improving education and decreasing crime.

And kindergarten readiness is among the most important measures of a child’s academic progress. Children who are behind in kindergarten are more likely to be behind in third-grade reading, and they rarely catch up throughout their school careers.

Heckman’s report showed that children from low-income families who attend high-quality programs at eight weeks old have a better chance of graduating from high school, avoiding pregnancy and staying out prison.

Heckman and his team of researchers from the University of Chicago and University of Southern California, examined the long-term impact of two preschool experiments conducted in North Carolina during the 1970s.

All the children in the study groups were African American, lived in low-income families and received a variety of services from birth to age 5, aimed at improving their education, nutrition and health.

His findings mirror previous research that shows children who participated in a high-quality early education program had higher IQs and test scores in math and reading during elementary and secondary school, were less likely to repeat grades and were placed in fewer special education classes.

Heckman’s research also gives credence to the importance of parent involvement in their child’s development and education.

“It’s also about teaching the parent about the value of the one-to-one interaction in early learning,” Heckman said. “Really what you’re doing is engaging the child and the parent into this lifelong enterprise of a dynamic relationship that foster skills, I think that is the key.”

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