The latest look at longitudinal data from a large Chicago preschool program makes a major contribution to the substantial body of evidence that investing in high-quality early education for low-income children yields a high rate of return in increased productivity and reduced social costs. The cost-benefit analysis looks at young adults, age 26, who had attended the Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPC) preschool program. The researchers estimate an 18% annual return, due to higher rates of college attendance, employment in higher-skilled jobs, lower rates of remediation, depression and incarceration. Spread over a lifetime that comes to $11 for every dollar invested.
The most recent previous analysis of the preschool program came when the participants were 20 and 21, and researchers could only project some of economic benefits that they were able to measure in the new study.
Unlike programs such as the landmark Perry Preschool Project, which was a one-time model program, CPC has been part of Chicago’s public school system for more than four decades and has served more than 100,000 low-income children. It is a coordinated early learning system that runs from pre-kindergarten through early elementary school. The CPC program “includes features such as heavy parental involvement and education, meals, health services and home visiting,” according to a USA Today story about the new research. It is, Science Daily notes, the second oldest federally funded preschool program, after Head Start.
“The large-scale CPC program has one of the highest economic returns of any social program for young people,” lead researcher Arthur Reynolds tells Science Daily. “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.”
Reynolds is a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and director of the Chicago Longitudinal Study, which follows 1,500 children who participated in CPC preschools. He also co-directs the Human Capital Research Collaborative, a partnership between the university and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The study appears in the current issue of Child Development.
The greatest economic benefits were experienced by children with higher risks, including males (22% annual return) and children whose parents had not graduated from high school (20% return). “The researchers,” Science Daily reports, “identified five key principles of the CPC that they say led to its effectiveness, including 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 CPC findings are consistent with research into other high-quality early education programs. Economist Arthur Rolnick, the former senior vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has calculated a 16% rate of return for the Perry Preschool program. Nobel laureate James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, pegs the return at closer to 10% but nonetheless calls high-quality early education “America’s best economic stimulus package” and wrote a 12-page letter to that effect to the federal deficit commission last year.
“The amount of evidence on the positive and enduring effects of high-quality early childhood programs is growing,” the new CPC study concludes. “There is not only a critical mass of evidence from long-term cost–benefit analyses of preschool programs such as CPC, but increasingly strong evidence from state-financed prekindergarten that participation is associated with sizable increases in school readiness. Moreover, advances in knowledge on the mechanisms of long-term effects have strengthened confidence in the economic returns of programs. The accumulated literature shows that under modest assumptions, the impacts of upscaled and sustained programs can be positive and highly cost effective.”