Yves here. It says a lot for the state of policy thinking that the justification for educating children from disadvantaged families is that “it’s good for the economy” as opposed to “it reduces inequality” or (heavens!) “it increases social stability by increasing the perception of fairness and legitimacy of the leadership class.”
Bear in mind that the question of whether classes that focus on giving low-income kids a better chance, like Head Start, actually pay off has been contested. The nay-sayers argument goes that even though Head Start students show better educational results, they fade over time. That makes sense: if you send kids to a good school when they are young, and then to crap schools later, the lack of access to good education and a supportive peer group when they are learning more advanced material means they are unlikely to be able to continue to excel.
But there are other potential gains from early and more extensive pre-elementary education. Nobel prize winner James Heckman found that students that got GEDs (as in passed a high school equivalency test rather than getting a diploma_ did less well in terms of lifetime earnings and job stability than high school graduates. His belief that part of the value of school is socialization (which includes learning to comply, like show up to classes on time, get papers completed on schedule).
One of the advantages of the sort of longer-lived pre-elementary education touted in this study is likely to be softening class markers, such as accents. A colleague recently met with some field officials from a Federal regulator. They were smart and feisty, but he also noticed that many has very heavy outer borough accents. He said even though they were likely more capable technically than lawyers at firms like Kirkland & Ellis (not even terribly white shoe), their accents would have kept them from getting in the door. So one of the benefits of these early programs may be, effectively, to teach young children what amounts to a middle/upper middle class dialect that they can hopefully access later in life.
Having said all of that, another benefit of more extensive early education is that mothers can work more regularly. Higher household incomes (and less parental stress) also improve economic and educational results.
Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website
A groundbreaking study published has found that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13% per child, per year return on investment through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors and employment — which reduce long-term taxpayer costs and equip country’s workforce for a competitive future. Nobel economics laureate and Institute for New Economic Thinking Advisory Board member Professor James Heckman and colleagues from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center have released their findings in a Human Capital and Economic Opportunity working group paper titled The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program.
Heckman, Jorge Luis García, Duncan Ermini Leaf and María José analyzed the effects of two identical, random-controlled preschool studies conducted in North Carolina in the early 1970’s: The Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC) and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education (CARE). Heckman had previously established a 7-10% return on investment based on the analysis of the Perry Preschool program, which served 3- and 4-year-olds. ABC/CARE was a comprehensive model from birth to age 5 which combined health, nutrition, family engagement, child care and early learning and in turn provided long-term benefits that far outweigh the costs.
By calculating the value of child care in helping mothers enter the workforce and of ABC/CARE’s health benefits, the researchers confirmed a higher rate of return over the long term. The beneficial adult health outcomes, particularly the reduction in metabolic syndrome among males, were quantified by Heckman’s colleagues at the USC Schaeffer Center. The researchers also found that ABC/CARE was one of the few programs that permanently boosted IQ. According to Heckman, “that lasting effect in cognition, combined with increased social and emotional skills that are known to drive achievement, were factors in better outcomes and returns on investment.”
Heckman and his colleagues believe their findings underscore the need for increased access to comprehensive, high-quality child care and preschool options for disadvantaged children and families. “High-quality early childhood programs can boost the upward mobility of two generations by freeing working parents to build their careers and increase wages over time while their child develops a broad range of foundational skills that lead to lifelong success,” noted Heckman. “The data speaks for itself. 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.”