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25 Years Later: High-Quality Early Childhood Programs Still Pay Off

Published in June in the journal Science, the latest report of the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS) links high-quality early childhood education  to higher living standards and crime prevention 25 years after the initial pre-school intervention. Led by Arthur Reynolds, co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative and professor of child development, and Judy Temple, a professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, this research is the longest follow-up ever of an established, large-scale early childhood program. In announcing these latest results, Reynolds noted, “A chain of positive influences initiated by large advantages in school readiness and parent involvement leads to better school performance and enrollment in higher quality schools, and ultimately to higher educational attainment and socioeconomic status.”

CLS has followed the lives of more than 1,400 participants, most of whom are low-income and Black, to understand and document the long term effects of participation in the high-quality Child-Parent Center Education Program (CPCEP). Funded through the Chicago Public Schools, CPCEP is an early childhood development program that begins in preschool and provides up to six years of service. Of the children who participated in the sample group of this research, 56 percent received both preschool and extended intervention through CPCEP that lasted four to six years, while the rest of the sample group received preschool intervention only. CLS participants were studied annually from preschool through high school and occasionally as young adults. Earlier findings of the CLS are the basis for much of the current research around the benefits of early childhood education during the school years and early adulthood. Early childhood advocates often cite one finding from this research that relates to the economic benefits of early childhood programs: “For every $1 invested in a Chicago early childhood education program, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over the children's lifetimes -- equivalent to an 18 percent annual return on program investment.”

New Study and Findings:
The latest iteration of the research looked at the study participants at age 28 and found that the participants with the best outcomes began services in preschool and were a part of the program for four to six years (from preschool through third grade). Researchers compared the sample group to a control group with the same socio-economic status who participated in other early childhood programs. At 28 years of age, researchers documented the following with respect to CPCEP participants:

Preschool group compared to the control group

  • 9 percent more completed high school; 19 percent more males
  • 20 percent more achieved moderate or higher level of socioeconomic status
  • 19 percent more carried some level of health insurance coverage
  • 28 percent fewer abused drugs and alcohol; 21 percent fewer males alone
  • 22 percent fewer had a felony arrest; the difference was 45 percent for children of high school dropouts
  • 28 percent fewer had experienced incarceration or jail

Additional benefits were noted for participants who took part in CPCEP for four to six years (preschool to third grade) compared to control group participants who received less than four years of early childhood programming:

  • 18 percent more achieved moderate or higher level of socioeconomic status
  • 23 percent more had some level of private health insurance coverage
  • 55 percent more achieved on-time high school graduation
  • 36 percent fewer had been arrested for violence

The evidence seems to be clear: high-quality early learning experiences have an impact on later life outcomes from school-age benefits to young adult and adult pay-offs. Click here to listen to Arthur Reynolds discuss the newest findings. 

New From CDF

Making the Case for Full-Day Kindergarten
CDF has launched a new portion of our Web site to make the case for full-day kindergarten (FDK). For many young children FDK is a broken step in the early learning continuum. Unequal access to publicly funded, full-day and full-week high quality kindergarten programs means too many young children lose a critical opportunity to develop and strengthen skills necessary for success in school and lifelong learning. The advantage of FDK was highlighted at our symposium in June. All children should be guaranteed access to publicly funded, full-day kindergarten if they are to meet the learning and work-force challenges of the 21st century. Watch videos and learn about the benefits of FDK from national leaders in early childhood development.

Closing The Achievement Gap Before It Starts
In last month’s edition we covered the symposium co-convened by CDF and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), entitled, A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys For Educational Success. The symposium examined startling research and discussed effective policies and innovative programs that help close the daunting achievement gap for young Black boys. Click here to view speaker presentations and to learn more about the symposium.

Early Childhood in the States

Chicago, Illinois – Transitioning to Kindergarten
Catalyst Chicago, the independent newsmagazine that documents, analyzes and supports school-improvement efforts in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), has devoted its entire July issue of Catalyst InDepth to Kindergarten. This detailed issue thoroughly explores the critical year when many children make the transition into formal schooling. The diversity in preparation, settings, length of day and content for young children in CPS are all discussed and viable recommendations are suggested. Specifically, the editor Lorraine Forte notes in one article, “What’s the use of providing children with a rich preschool experience, only to send them off to a school that doesn’t capitalize and build on what they’ve learned?” With no policy requiring full-day kindergarten, no cohesive literacy curriculum and no comprehensive plan to transition children from preschool to kindergarten, the issue uncovers that CPS is offering some children a rich experience, while others are getting a bare-bones start. Catalyst Chicago’s analysis shows that just like states and cities across the country, the kindergarten landscape in Chicago and throughout Illinois is a hodgepodge of varying lengths, funding sources and teaching styles. Download the issue in its entirety.

Tennessee – Assessing the Impact of Tennessee’s Pre-Kindergarten Program: Final Report
In May, the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller released the final report from a study that assessed the impact of Pre-K programs on school-readiness. This study looked at the short- and long-term effects of state-funded Pre-K participation on academic outcomes in kindergarten through fifth grade using existing school records. The evaluation took place over a multi-year timeframe and in a series of reporting stages. The overarching goal was to identify Pre-K participants in existing school records and to determine, to the best possible extent given the data available for analysis, whether there is evidence to suggest that Pre-K participation was associated with a positive effect on student performance in  kindergarten through fifth grade relative to students who did not participate in Pre-K. The overall conclusions drawn from the series of reports and the cumulative analyses presented in the final report were consistent: students who participate in Tennessee’s Pre-K program reliably show better outcomes on kindergarten assessments than students who do not participate in the Pre-K program. The report concludes that the results provide evidence that the objective of Tennessee’s Pre-K program – school readiness – is being met. Read the entire report.

Early Childhood News and Resources

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge
The U.S. Department of Education has released its criteria for states to apply for the Race to the Top –
Early Learning Challenge Program. They are asking for input on how to implement the major elements of the program and are inviting the public to comment on the requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions that have been posted on the departments blog. The public has until July 11 at 5:00 p.m. EDT to make comments, at which point final competition regulations will be developed. The department has a statutory deadline to award grantees by December 31, 2011.  Read criteria and submit comments to the blog here.

2011 Application for Promise Neighborhoods Program Released
The U.S. Department of Education has released the application for the second phase of the Promise Neighborhoods program, including new implementation grants and a second round of planning grants, totaling $30 million. The Promise Neighborhoods are modeled off of the the success of CDF’s Board of Directors chair, Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone, which was debated and incubated at CDF’s Haley Farm, the spiritual home of the Black Community Crusade for Children. Non-profits, institutions of higher education and Indian tribes are eligible to apply for funds to develop or execute plans that will improve educational and developmental outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods. Applications will be due on Sept. 6, 2011. Winners will be selected and awards will be made no later than Dec. 31, 2011. Additional information about the Promise Neighborhoods program is available here.

Funding Woes Put Kindergarten at Risk 
Laura Bornfreund of New America Foundation discusses the myth that kindergarten is fully funded through the K-12 public education system and how budget woes at the local and state level often make full-day kindergarten programs susceptible to cuts.

Improving Public Financing For Early Learning Programs
How we fund early care and education varies greatly from program to program, across states, and across levels of government. This brief reviews sources and models of public financing of early care and education and makes recommendations for improving upon what currently exists.

Pre-School for All: The Time Has Come 
Mark Shriver and Jennifer Garner recently authored a joint opinion piece on the Huffington Post about the benefits of early learning, the need to give all children access to preschool and the strong research behind quality programs that prepare young children for school readiness.

For more information on CDF's Early Childhood initiatives and policy priorities contact Rashanda Perryman at

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