U. MINNESOTA (US) — Investing in early childhood education reaps future financial rewards—as much as an 18 percent annual return.
A new study, the first long-term economic analysis of an existing, large-scale early education program, evaluated the effectiveness of the Chicago Public Schools’ federally funded Child Parent Centers (CPCs) established in 1967.
Researchers surveyed study participants and their parents, and analyzed education, employment, public aid, criminal justice, substance use, and child welfare records for the participants through to age 26, and found that for every $1 invested, nearly $11 was returned to society.
“Our findings provide strong evidence that sustained high-quality early childhood programs can contribute to well-being for individuals and society,” says Arthur Reynolds, professor of child development at the University of Minnesota.
“The large-scale CPC program has one of the highest economic returns of any social program for young people. As public institutions are being pressed to cut costs, our findings suggest that increasing access to high-quality programs starting in preschool and continuing into the early grades is an efficient use of public resources.”
The CPC program provides services for low-income families beginning at age 3 in 20 school sites. Kindergarten and school-age services are provided up to age 9 (third grade).
Funded by Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, CPC is the second oldest (after Head Start) federally funded preschool program.
Details of the study are published in the journal Child Development.
The cost-benefit analysis of the CPC used information collected on about 900 children enrolled in the 20 centers starting when they were 3 and first enrolled in a preschool program and followed them until the children were 9 and taking part in a school-age program that featured smaller classes, teacher aides, and instructional and family support.
Follow-up interviews were done in early adulthood and information was collected from many sources until age 26. These children were compared to a group of about 500 comparable children who didn’t take part in the CPC but participated in the usual educational interventions for disadvantaged youths in Chicago schools.
The CPC resulted in significantly higher rates of attendance at 4-year colleges and employment in higher-skilled jobs and significantly lower rates of felony arrests and symptoms of depression in young adulthood.
The program’s economic benefits in 2007 dollars exceeded costs, including increased earnings and tax revenues, averted costs related to crime and savings for child welfare, special education and grade retention. The preschool part showed the strongest economic benefits providing a total return to society of $10.83 per dollar invested—equivalent to an 18 percent annual return on program investment. Gains varied by child, program, and family group.
When the researchers included the benefits from reductions in smoking, total returns rose to more than $12 per dollar invested. The school-age program yielded a return of about $4 per dollar invested (annual rate of return of 10 percent) and the combined preschool and school-age program (preschool to third grade) yielded returns of $8.24 per dollar invested (annual rate of return of 18 percent), based on average net benefits per child of $38,000 above and beyond less extensive intervention.
Children at higher levels of risk experienced the highest economic benefits, including males ($17.88 per dollar invested; a 22 percent annual return), children who had taken part in preschool for a year ($13.58 per dollar invested; a 21 percent annual return) and children from higher-risk families, including those whose parents had not graduated from high school ($15.88 per dollar invested; a 20 percent annual return).
The researchers identified five key principles of the CPC that they say led to its effectiveness: providing services that are of sufficient length or duration, are high in intensity and enrichment, feature small class sizes and teacher-student ratios, are comprehensive in scope and are implemented by well-trained and well-compensated staff.
The origin of the economic returns can be empirically traced through a chain of early educational advantages to cumulate in long-term effects.
“Access to effective programs like CPC should be increased,” Reynolds says. “In scarce times, policymakers should divest in programs that aren’t working and reserve the scarce resources for the most effective.”
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