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The impact of investing in early childhood development

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At this point, the jury is in.  Early childhood development programs enable many kids at risk for a life of crime and poverty to change their fates – they live better lives and cost society less.  If you want to be inspired, download this Planet Money podcast and this story from This American Life and listen to them in your car.  Don’t think about it.  Do it.  Now.  You’ll be glad you did.

Poor kids start off at a tremendous disadvantage.

  • Compared with kindergartners from the poorest 20% of our families, children from the top 20% are four times as likely to have a computer at home, have three times as many books, are read to more often, watch far less television, and are more likely to visit museums or libraries. (here)
  • Children from professional families know an average of 1,116 words when they are 3 years old, compared to 525 words for children in families on welfare. (here)
  •  And children who score poorly on academic assessments before entering kindergarten are more likely to become teen parents, engage in crime, and be unemployed as adults (here, p.144)

But an investment in early childhood development does improve kids’ achievement all the way through school.   One study that followed kids for a long time, comparing children who got a very intensive early childhood development program to those who did not (The Abecedarian study, and here) found:

  • Children who get high quality early development are more likely stay in school: 40% of the early learning kids were in school at 21 years old compared with 20% of the those without that help.
  • About 35% of the young adults from the early learning group had graduated from a 4 year college or were attending one at the time of the assessment.  Only 14% of the others  had done so.
  • Early learning children had higher test scores, not only at first but all the way through school.
  • Early learning kids had significantly higher academic achievement in both reading and math all the way through school.

Many other studies show the same thing:

  • A 2004 analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool early learning program participants were 20% more likely to graduate from high school, 14% more likely to be employed and earned $548 more per month at the age of 40 than non-participants. (here)
  • High school dropouts live an average of nine fewer years than graduates. (The Social Costs of an Inadequate Education, p16, Columbia University, October, 2005)

New Hampshire has just achieved universal kindergarten but is one of only 11 states that have not yet made an investment in early childhood development.


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