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Early-ed emphasis pays off, U researcher finds

Hot on the heels of Gov. Mark Dayton’s announcement that he thinks preschool is the best place to begin closing the achievement gap, a University of Minnesota researcher has released fresh data [PDF] showing the approach is cost-effective, too.

For every $1 invested in a school-based early education program, $11 is returned to society over the children’s lifetimes, according to a long-term economic analysis conducted by Arthur Reynolds, a professor of child development at the university’s College of Education and Human Development. That’s the equivalent of an 18 percent annual return on investment.

Reynolds and three of his colleagues surveyed some 900 children who attended Chicago Public Schools’ 20 federally funded Child Parent Centers (CPCs), which were established in 1967. They tracked the participants, who entered the program at age 3, until they were 26, gathering data on their education, job history, use of public aid and criminal records, among other things. Then they compared their adult subjects to a control group that had access to conventional educational interventions in Chicago schools.

The CPC alums were significantly more likely to attend college, hold higher-skilled jobs, and much less likely to end up in the court system or exhibiting symptoms of depression.

Most benefit for those most at risk
They saw the highest rate of economic return in the children judged to be at the most risk. Every dollar invested in a male child returned almost $18, or 22 percent, while children whose parents did not complete high school returned nearly $16, or 20 percent.

What kind of investment drove these returns? The CPC sites offer small class sizes, low student-teacher ratios, intense and enriching programming, and well-trained and well-compensated teachers. Parents engage in everything from classroom volunteerism to parenting skills workshops.

“The high level of effectiveness comes from several key features,” Reynolds said in an interview. “It starts earlier than most pre-K programs. Kids can get up to two years of preschool in a center-based program with a focus on literacy and school readiness.”

And because the CPC sites are school-based, their services are aligned with overall school programming, he added.

Reynolds’ full analysis is featured in the current issue of the journal Child Development. 

Rolnick-Grunewald work attracted business interest
Of course, Minnesota’s own Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald have spent the last eight years arguing that every dollar invested in early ed returns at least $8. And their tireless attention to this message is rightly credited with helping lure the state’s captains of industry into the pro-pre-K fold.

Organizations lined up to help Dayton push his early-ed agenda — or one like it, anyhow — include the Itasca Project, Ready4K and the brand-new MinnCAN, which made a recent appearance in this space.

As reported in this blog yesterday, Dayton has yet to say how he intends to fund his early-childhood education initiatives, but educators are enthusiastic nonetheless. If it’s a formal part of the state’s public education system, high-quality pre-K stands a better chance.

And maybe, just maybe the governor can persuade lawmakers to fund his early-education vision. After all, is any other investment delivering an 18 percent return right now? 

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Comments (9)

"Parents engage in everything from classroom volunteerism to parenting skills workshops."

That is what is referred to as an engaged parent, one who is willing to volunteer and who is willing to attend workshops. These types of parents exist at all economic and education levels. No surprise: "The CPC alums were significantly more likely to attend college, hold higher-skilled jobs, and much less likely to end up in the court system or exhibiting symptoms of depression."

What's to say that the children of these engaged parents would not have succeeded without the CPC program? Parent involvement is a better predictor of child success than race or economics.

The USA Today story says that the interventions "...includes features such as heavy parental involvement and education, meals, health services and home visiting...Children begin preschool at age 3.."

So...this is *much more than "education"* it is meals, health services, and home visiting beginning at age three! Given the rate of return both in terms of dollars saved AND educational attainment, it sort of makes you wonder why all the negative attention has been paid to teachers and schools, when such rich returns await other approaches.

"Interventions" is another term for parenting; parenting that should be performed by parents. Some are more than happy to give over the responsibility and expense of doing basic parenting, like providing breakfast before school. Is taking parenting away from parents going to benefit the child? Is it teaching the child how to be a parent some day? Not, that they'll need to know.

When my children were in elementary school in Minneapolis, free breakfast was provided for all, regardless of need. A letter came home every fall encouraging parents to send their kids to school hungry, reminding parents that the school received federal money for each meal served. It was puzzling for those of us who consider breakfast a family event, which included a nutritional meal. Why should the school care? If they were not serving my child a meal, they did not need the money to purchase a meal. Seemed like a zero sum game to me.

18%? Better than that. Of course, we don't have a time frame, which is typical when evaluating an investment for return.

But 18% would be if you got 1.18 back on a dollar. 18 back is 1800%.

Parenting, reading/school ready interventions...we're not talking about something where effort can be crowded out. If the school does more, there's nothing saying the parent can't either. In fact, my understanding is that many Head Start programs also work with the parents to improve the situation in the home as well. Not every family or child needs this...but we'd be fools to ignore or look down our noses at the folks who do. It's plain sense that this is worth our time and effort.

Gee, Steve, you sound so put out. Maybe the school wanted children to feel *welcome* to eat breakfast at school, given the stigma attached to poverty. Would you rather children come to school hungry?


There are programs that provide assistance, including food and money for food, to families in poverty. Breakfast can be served at home, using that food. No, I do not want children to come to school hungry.

At times, the start of school was delayed, due to the need to feed children from a delayed bus.

If "put out" is disagreeing with watering down parenting and teaching that to the next generation, then count me amount the "put out".

Well at least we know where you stand, Steve. Twenty five percent of children in this country are dependent on food stamps for survival; 43 million people are on food stamps. You would deny those people food so you can feel righteous about "watering down parenting and teaching." The people who are hungry don't have that luxury.


Clearly, you don't know where I stand. If you reread #6, you will learn that I acknowledge that people receive assistance, assistance that they can use to feed their children at home. Home is where parenting occurs; parenting does not occur at school.

I've heard it takes a village, but more importantly it takes a parent, and preferably two parents. I think that $2 is better spent providing the child a breakfast at home than at school. I will be interested to hear how I am wrong.