Attendance of Preschool Affects Adulthood

25 years later, children enrolled in a fulltime preschool program were more established in adult life than children who were not, researchers say.

According to a recent report from the University of Minnesota, children who are enrolled in a full-time preschool program until elementary school are more established twenty-five years later than children who were not enrolled in preschool.

Researchers and Arthur J. Reynolds, lead researcher and a professor in the university's Institute of Child Development, studied 1,386 children. 989 of the child-participants were enrolled in the Chicago-based Child-Parent Center Education Program (funded by the federal government) from the years 1983 to 1989, while 550 were not enrolled in the preschool program.

Every child in the study attended full-day kindergarten and received social services. 15% of the non-preschool group attended Head Start while the rest stayed at home.

The researchers followed up with the participants once they had reached adulthood and had time to establish themselves; they discovered that participants who attended the preschool program as children earned higher incomes, had increased education levels, a higher socioeconomic status, and were less likely to abuse drugs or be involved in criminal activities. The children were also more likely to have health insurance coverage.

"These effects haven't been found before for public programs, so the findings are encouraging to provide access to high-quality programs through public funding for kids at risk," said Reynolds.

The researchers noted that males and children from high-risk or impoverished families benefited most significantly from preschool.

According to Reynolds, the preschool program succeeded for a number of reasons.

Firstly, children in this study were enrolled when they were three years old, so they got more participation in the program. "We know that the amount of time in the program is associated with gains," he said.

Secondly, the Child-Parent Center Education Program was (and still is) run by local schools, and as such, all of the teachers at the preschool were certified in early childhood education—a bragging right which does not hold true of many preschool programs, Reynolds added. The program was also joined with outreach programs which involved parents in the education of their child. Reynolds noted that the program also emphasized language development and literacy.

Lastly, the program supplied stability for the children, due to the fact that the program is “school based” and “there is continuing access to services, and kids stay in the same environment through elementary school," he said. "It promotes positive transitions from one grade to the next."

While these findings appear to be nothing but positive, government-funded preschool programs—especially those for children from poor families—have political implications, Reynolds noted.

“There isn't enough spending on high-quality services," he said. "The social program that has the biggest effects and the most enduring effects is preschool. But, there is a gap between what we know and what we fund….This program can reduce the disparities in education and success.”

Reynolds continued by saying that while this preschool program is more costly than some other programs, it pays in the long run; adults who attended this program were more likely to succeed financially and did not burden public health programs or the legal system.

There are some who are skeptical, however, as to whether the federal government should be funding early childhood education programs.

One such skeptic, Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, said "the study's findings on the Chicago Parent Center program are certainly interesting but they do not provide evidence in support of the authors' policy recommendations."

"While a few specific pre-K programs seem to have had lasting impacts, they appear to be exceptions rather than the rule," Coulson stated. "More specifically, the federal government's efforts to scale-up the success of those particular programs, over four decades and at very great cost, have not proven effective. Yet another study pointing to the effect of one of the three pre-K programs that did have lasting effects does not alter that picture.”

Larry Schweinhart, president of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich, supported the findings and agreeed with Reynolds. "It is exciting to see the lasting effects of the Chicago Child-Parent Center Education Program on participants a quarter century later -- their educational attainment, socioeconomic status, health status and behavior, and reduced crime and justice system involvement," said Schweinhart.

He also said that Reynolds’ findings confirm similar findings done by two small-sample projects, including a study which he oversaw: the HighScope Perry Preschool Study.

"Because high-quality early childhood education requires major investment both in the aggregate and in each child it serves," Schweinhart concluded, "it is critical that the evidence of its powerful return on investment be as strong as possible, and the Chicago Longitudinal Study contributes greatly to this evidence base."

The report was published in the June 9th issue of the journal Science.