Long-Term Study of Adults Who Received High-Quality Early Childhood Care and Education Shows Economic and Social Gains, Less Crime

Washington, DC, November, 2004 — A landmark, long-term study of the effects of high-quality early care and education on low-income three- and four-year-olds shows that adults at age 40 who participated in a preschool program in their early years have higher earnings, are more likely to hold a job, have committed fewer crimes, and are more likely to have graduated from high school. Overall, the study documented a return to society of more than $16 for every tax dollar invested in the early care and education program.

The HighScope Perry Preschool study was conducted over 4 decades by the late David P. Weikart, founder of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation; Larry Schweinhart, HighScope’s current president; and their colleagues. “These findings can be expected of any Head Start, state

preschool, or child care program similar to the program HighScope coordinated and then studied,” said Schweinhart. “Our teachers were well-qualified, they served no more than eight children from low-income families at a time, they visited these families as part of the program to discuss their child’s development, and the classes operated daily for children three and four years old.”

What makes the study unique is that the children in the study were randomly assigned either to receive the HighScope Perry Preschool program or to receive no comparable program and were then tracked throughout their lives to age 40. At earlier stages, HighScope Educational Research Foundation staff studied these same groups of children every year from age 3 to age 11, and again at ages 14, 15, 19, and 27.

Among the study’s major findings in the educational area are

  • More of the group who received high-quality early education graduated from high school than the non-program group (65% vs. 45%), particularly females (84% vs. 32%);
  • Fewer females who received high-quality early education than non-program females required treatment for mental impairment (8% vs. 36%) or had to repeat a grade (21% vs. 41%); and
  • The group who received high-quality early education on average outperformed the non-program group on various intellectual and language tests during their early childhood years, on school achievement tests between ages 9 and 14, and on literacy tests at ages 19 and 27.

“The preschool program’s long-term effects were due to its shorter-term effects on children’s educational commitment and success,” said report coauthor Jeanne Montie, senior research associate at the HighScope Educational Research Foundation.

Weikart began the study in 1962 by identifying 123 young African American children living in poverty and assessed to be at high risk of school failure in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The researchers randomly assigned 58 of the children to a high-quality early care and education setting; the rest received no preschool program.

Among the study’s major findings in the economic area are

  • More of the group who received high-quality early education than the non-program group were employed at age 40 (76% vs. 62%);
  • The group who received high-quality early education had median annual earnings more than $5,000 higher than the non-program group ($20,800 vs. $15,300);
  • More of the group who received high-quality early education owned their own homes; and
  • More of the group who received high-quality early education had a savings account than the non-program group (76% vs. 50%).

In the HighScope Perry Preschool program, children participated in their own education, by planning, carrying out, and reviewing their own activities as part of their learning experience.

One of the reviewers of the study, Nobel-Prize-winning University of Chicago economist James J. Heckman, said, “This report substantially bolsters the case for early interventions in disadvantaged populations. More than 35 years after they received an enriched preschool program, the Perry Preschool participants achieve much greater success in social and economic life than their counterparts who are randomly denied treatment.”

Among the study’s major findings in the crime prevention area are

  • The group who received high-quality early education had significantly fewer arrests than the non-program group (36% vs. 55% arrested five times or more); and
  • Significantly fewer members of the group who received high-quality early care than the non-program group were ever arrested for violent crimes (32% vs. 48%), property crimes (36% vs. 58%), or drug crimes (14% vs. 34%).

“This study proves that investing in high quality pre-kindergarten can make every family in America safer from crime and violence. Law enforcement leaders know that to win the war on crime, we need to be as willing to guarantee our kids space in a pre-kindergarten program as we are to guarantee a criminal a prison cell,” said Sanford Newman, president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an anti-crime organization made up of 2,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and victims of violence.

About HighScope

HighScope Educational Research Foundation is an early childhood leader in pursuit of a world where all children have the opportunity to develop socially, emotionally, and cognitively so they have satisfying, productive lives. HighScope supports the development of young children from birth through age eight by developing and providing quality, research-based, high-quality curricula, assessments, professional learning, and other supports in the context of families and their communities.

HighScope’s roots extend back to the Perry Preschool Project (1962–1967). Launched in Ypsilanti, Michigan and led by Ypsilanti Schools psychologist David Weikart and Perry Elementary School principal Charles Eugene Beatty, the Perry Preschool Project was one of the first early childhood programs in the United States intentionally designed to increase school success for preschool children living in poverty. Today, HighScope’s work can be found in classrooms throughout the United States and in educational settings around the globe.


Media Contact:

Tara Baliat
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734.485.2000 Ext. 256