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Early-ed emphasis pays off, U researcher finds

Hot on the heels of Gov.

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.

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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?