Multiple studies show that early childhood experiences disproportionately strongly influence a child’s life compared to later events. And they also show that high-quality early childhood education is an incredibly effective means of promoting continuing success in school, jobs, and the social and civic spheres.
The Perry Preschool research is one of the most prominent studies demonstrating the lifelong impact of high-quality early childhood programs on children’s lives. The study randomly allocated 123 at-risk, low-income kids into two groups. One group entered a high-quality preschool program; the other received no preschool education. The participants of both groups were observed from age three to age 50.
The longitudinal research indicated that by age 40, those who participated in a preschool program:
- Had fewer teenage pregnancies
- Were more likely to have graduated from high school
- Were more likely to hold a job and have higher earnings
- Committed fewer crimes
- Owned their own home and car
The results of this and similar studies suggest that children receiving high-quality early childhood education are much more likely to lead healthy and fulfilling lives in the long run.
Who else benefits from early childhood programs?
Although the children and their parents are the primary beneficiaries of early childhood programs, other beneficiaries may include state and local government, taxpayers, and society at large. High-quality early childhood programs foster healthy development, and they may yield savings by preventing the need for more costly interventions later in a child’s life. For instance, studies indicate that involvement in high-quality early care may assist children in avoiding special schooling, grade repeat, early childbearing, and imprisonment – all of which entail substantial costs for the government and society.
Do all early childhood programs yield the same results?
No, there is a range. Researchers at RAND compiled research on 115 ECE programs—and found that 102 made a clear and positive difference in young lives. By their most fundamental metric, 102 of the 115 interventions significantly improved at least one child outcome. That implied a success rate of 89 percent.
But, when they examined every child outcome in every study of the 115 programs — more than 3,000 measured outcomes — they discovered that 29% demonstrated strong evidence of improvement. The majority of the remainder were what statisticians call “null” indicating insufficient information to conclude one way or the other.
However, that is still a winning percentage given the sheer range of outcomes measured, and the researchers said—about six times higher than random chance alone.
Research has shown that early childhood interventions can remarkably affect children’s lives in the long run. Notably, high-quality, comprehensive, and well-curated early childhood programs can foster the overall development of children and leave a long-lasting impact on their lives.