Conversation about the benefits of high-quality early education often focuses on long-term benefits such as increased employment and earnings and reduced reliance on public assistance. A recent brief from ReadyNation, a national business partnership for early childhood and economic success, reminds us that many benefits are short-term. (See “Savings Now, Savings Later: Smart Early Childhood Programs Pay Off Right Away and for the Long Term.”)
“We don’t have to wait 10 or 20 years to see strong returns on our investments in young children. Some programs create real savings in a year or less. Early education also improves third-grade scores,” the brief notes. It highlights three areas:
- “Quality home visiting/parent mentoring programs can reduce costs and improve outcomes now,” through such outcomes as reducing low-birthweight births and reducing child abuse and neglect.
- “Effective pre-kindergarten programs reduce costly grade retention, special education and other services right away.” A Pennsylvania program, the brief states, reduced the percentage of children with developmental delays – a predictor of need for special education services — from 21% at the start of the program to 8% at graduation. Lousiana’s LA4 program cut the number of children who needed to repeat kindergarten by a third and cut in half referrals to special education through second grade. New Jersey’s Abbott Preschool Program graduates were half as likely to be retained by second grade.
- “Health programs can show a strong return for children, parents, schools and employers” by, among other things, reducing childhood asthma and emergency room visits, both of which lead to missed school days for children and missed work days for parents.
The brief concludes by noting that the benefits extend to early elementary school, “including the critical third-grade benchmark year.”
- Children who participated in Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program were 36% less likely to be retained through third grade, 24% more likely to pass the state’s reading test and 16% more likely to pass the math test.
- In Chicago, graduates of the Child-Parent Education Centers had 36% less grade retention and 26%fewer referrals to special education than third graders who had not participated in the program.
- Third graders who had participated in a Utah district’s preschool program demonstrated a 27% increase in language arts skills and a 51% increase in math skills, compared with children who had not participated in the program.
- Children who received services from a high-quality nurse home visiting program as infants had increased reading and math scores through third grade.
Add these short-term benefits to the long-term benefits and it’s no wonder that such leading economists as Nobel Prize winner James Heckman and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke call for investing in young children.