According to results from a Chicago based study with children from low-income families, preschool had surprising long-term benefits.
Researchers followed more than 1,000 children for up to 25 years. They tracked nearly 900 children into adulthood. What they discovered was that low-income kids who attended preschool ended up with better jobs, less drug abuse and fewer arrests than children who didn’t attend preschool.
Arthur Reynolds began studying more than 1,500 Chicago kids back in 1986, and he’s kept up with most of them ever since. About two-thirds of those children went through the Child-Parent Center Education Program – the rest through traditional pre-kindergarten programs, which start later and are less intensive. The two groups had similar backgrounds, largely poor and African American.
Now those kids are turning 28, and Reynolds, a University of Minnesota professor of child development, says people who had rigorous preschool are still enjoying advantages after 25 years. “There’s an initial effect on school readiness,” said Reynolds, a professor of child development at the University of Minnesota. “That kind of sets off sort of a chain reaction that leads to the changes that we see in adulthood at the end of the twenties.”
The ongoing publicly funded program focuses on language development, scholastic skills and building self-confidence. It involves one or two years of half-day preschool, and up to four additional years of educational and family services in grade school.
The findings were published in the online version of the journal Science. Previous studies have also found that attendance at high quality preschools produced similar results.
Though many preschool kids also received extra services in grade school, including intensive reading instruction, the researchers found the most enduring effects, particularly for non-academic success, were due to one or two years of preschool.
The authors theorize that those intensive early childhood experiences built intellectual - skills, social adjustment and motivation that helped children better navigate their high-risk environments.
The challenges facing the low-income children were daunting, and the final results were, as adults, the average income for those attending preschool was $12,000 less than the average income. Also almost half of them had been arrested. But even though the statistics sound grim, they were not as dismal as for the kids who did not attend preschool. Preschool gave the children who attended a leg-up in the world.
Experts not involved in the study still called the results impressive. "To still show really any advantage for such a long period of time is remarkable and noteworthy," said Kyle Snow, director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children's applied research center.
The study's lead researcher, Arthur Reynolds of the University of Minnesota, said the differences between the groups are meaningful and translate to big savings to society for kids who attended preschool.
The average cost per child for 18 months of preschool in 2011 is $9,000, but Reynolds' cost-benefit analysis suggests that leads to at least $90,000 in benefits per child in terms of increased earnings, tax revenue, less criminal behavior, reduced mental health costs and other measures. "No other social program for children and youth has been shown to have that level of return on investment," he said.
Some of the study’s results were:
—80 percent of the preschool group finished high school versus 75 percent of the others.
—Nearly 15 percent of the preschool group attended a four-year college, versus 11 percent of the others.
—28 percent of the preschool group had skilled jobs requiring post-high school training versus 21 percent of the others.
—Average annual adult income for the preschool group was about $11,600 versus $10,800 for the group that did not attend preschool. The low average incomes include zero earnings for those in prison and close to that for adults who were still in college or studying elsewhere.
—14 percent of the preschool group had abused drugs in adulthood versus 19 percent of the other.
—48 percent of the preschool group had been arrested in adulthood and 15 percent had been incarcerated, versus 54 percent of the others arrested and 21 percent incarcerated.
Preschool offered many of the children a solid base for further education, and an opportunity to start the first grade better prepared.