Study highlights economic importance of early childhood education

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With the trauma of the pandemic and the social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, the need to create a more just and inclusive society has become more urgent.

Chris Farrell, principal contributor to the market economy, argues that an important way for state and federal authorities to improve equality is to invest more in early childhood education. And there is new research to support his point.

Below is an edited transcript of Farrell’s conversation with “Marketplace Morning Report” host Sabri Ben-Achour on the need for more investment in early childhood education.

Sabri Ben Achour: Why is early childhood education so essential?

Chris Farrell: OKAY. I think it’s an incredibly important connection because we’re all trying to make a fairer society these days. And one investment that will really help achieve that goal is early childhood education. I mean, look, scientific and economic research has converged around the idea that the biggest return on public investment comes from investing in early childhood development programs, especially if they target young children alive. with the lowest incomes in the country. And, you know, these investments improve academic achievement, build social skills, and, as people become adults, higher incomes and more jobs. And there’s a recent study by Nobel Laureate James Heckman and three other economists, and they took that research a step further by examining the intergenerational and intragenerational impact of a famous, pioneering, and early childhood education program. high quality – the Perry Preschool Project.

Ben Achour: The Perry Preschool Project, which dates from the early 1960s, focused on a group of low-income African American children. Recap that for us.

Farrell: Right. So that was in Ypsilanti, Michigan, they were 3 or 4 years old and they received two years of preschool classes on weekdays starting at age 3, and they also had weekly home visits from teachers during that time. And it was a high quality program, so they had a program designed to stimulate, you know, the development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Children in the control group could not get any of these investments, and there were no easy substitutes in the low-income area where they lived. And studies have shown that the children at Perry Kindergarten performed much better on many measures, including improving income, than the control group. The program therefore influenced the creation of the federal Head Start program, and it is this well-known program that provides early childhood education to poor families.

Ben Achour: So, in this context, what is important about this latest study by Heckman and his co-authors?

Farrell: So I think it’s really an amazing study because they used newly collected data from participants in their late 40s, so 54 years old. But they also examined their siblings as well as their children. And the long-term gains of the original participants, their siblings, and their children are striking, especially when it comes to earnings gains. So if you factor in the intergenerational and intragenerational effects, they conservatively estimate – this is a conservative estimate – the program generates $ 9 in profit for every $ 1 invested.

Ben Achour: This idea is becoming commonplace. the [Joe] The Biden administration’s U.S. Plan for Families emphasizes early childhood education and wants to back it up with billions of dollars. Is it going somewhere?

Farrell: Yeah, and you also have a number of states like New Jersey and cities like Boston and Denver, you know, they’ve done well with high quality early childhood development programs. And Minnesota has its Parent Aware. These are scholarships that can be used at a licensed daycare center to help low-income children prepare for kindergarten. So look, here’s the thing, the message from real world experience and research is clear: if you want to build a more equitable society, then invest more, much more, in early childhood education targeting children. vulnerable to low income is the way to go.


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