What is the value of a high quality preschool education?
That was the question put forward on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon.
You can hear Alex Blumberg's article, or read the full story, at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/08/12/2011/139583385/preschool-the-best-job-training-program
NPR concluded their month long feature on child rearing with a piece on early childhood education. As part of the piece, they interview James Heckman, a Noble Prize winning University of Chicago economist and staunch advocate for the benefits of investing in early childhood education. Initially, Heckman's interest was not early childhood education, but researching the effects of job training programs. His research took an interesting turn when he discovered that for many participants, job training programs are ineffective because they lack a whole set of foundational skills, which are so basic that most people don't even consider them to be skills- the ability to focus and concentrate for an extended period of time, an attitude of abiding curiosity and interest in the world, the ability to resolve conflicts with others in a socially acceptable manner, and basic emotional regulation skills (the ability handle frustration, disappointment, and anger, to inhibit behavior, delay gratification, and modulate levels of arousal). Heckman calls these executive functioning skills "soft skills." His research shows that these skills serve as the foundation of future academic endeavors, and that if these skills are not acquired in early childhood, it is increasingly difficult to learn them later in life.
Preschool is where these skills are optimally acquired, and evidence suggests that providing children with a high quality preschool education confers benefits which can be seen forty years later. The most famous of these studies is the Perry Preschool study. In the study, 128 African-American three and four year old children from disadvantaged homes were divided into two groups. The experimental group attended a 2 1/2 hour preschool program, which (much like Montessori) engaged children in activities which required decision making and were child directed (not teacher directed); the control group did not attend preschool. For the rest of their education, the children attended the same public schools.
Twenty seven years later, the results were pretty staggering:
-There was a 44% higher rate of graduation amongst the children who attended preschool.
-There was a 26% lower rate of out of wedlock births among those who attended preschool.
-There were 50% fewer teenage pregnancies among those who attended preschool.
Forty years later, the effects continued:
-Those who attended preschool were 46% less likely to have served time in prison.
-Those who attended preschool had a 33% lower rate of arrest for violent crime.
-Those who attended preschool had a 42% higher median monthly income.
-Those who attended preschool were 26% less likely to have received government assistance.
Heckman's conclusion: Preschool is the best job training program money can buy. Put another way, as Dr. Montessori surmised more than 100 years ago, "The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, from birth to age of six. For that is the time when man's intelligence itself, his greatest implement is being formed. But not only his intelligence, his full range of psychic powers... At no other age has the child greater need of intelligent help, and any obstacle which impedes his creative work will lessen his chances of achieving perfection."
To read more about James Heckman's research, you can visit his website at:
To read more about the Perry Preschool Project: http://www.evidencebasedprograms.org/wordpress/?page_id=65