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Sept. 8, 2011 Volume 33, No. 3

Joint research finds childhood programs have long-term impact


Outcomes for low-income children improve

To deal with budget shortfalls, state legislatures across the country are cutting many government-funded pre-school programs or eliminating them altogether. However, a recent study by researchers from the University of Missouri and University of Minnesota show that such programs are vital to the future of many urban children.

In a study published in the June 9 issue of Science, Irma Arteaga, an assistant professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, and four researchers from the University of Minnesota, examined the long-term success rates of Chicago’s Child-Parent Center Education Program (CPC). The research team found that low-income children who spent two to six years in the program had higher rates of high-school graduation, fewer criminal arrests, reduced instances of substance abuse and earned more money than children of the same age who did not participate in the program.

Arteaga believes these positive results are applicable for most high-quality early-education programs for low-income children.

“Early-education programs can have a direct impact on economic success and good health,” Arteaga said. “The findings of this study indicate that these programs provide a strong foundation for the investment in, and promotion of, early-childhood learning.”

The Chicago Child-Parent Center program is a publicly funded early-childhood development program that begins in preschool and provides up to six years of service in the Chicago public schools. The researchers used data from the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS), which is an ongoing study of the development of a single group of low-income minority children growing up in the inner city. The original sample of the CLS included nearly a thousand children who attended or received preschool services from 20 CPC sites in the early 1980s.

Another 550 children of the same age did not participate in the CPC preschool program, but participated in all-day kindergarten program in five randomly selected Chicago public schools serving low income children in 1985-86, when all-day kindergarten was relatively rare.

The study is the longest follow-up of an established large-scale early childhood program. It measured participants at the age of 28 and found a high school graduation rate increase of 9 percent for CPC participants who were in the program for at least two pre-school years. The researchers also found that CPC participants were 20 percent more likely to achieve a higher level of socioeconomic status, 22 percent less likely to have a felony arrest and 28 percent less likely to spend time in prison.

The findings show support for the enduring effects of sustained school-based early education to the end of the third decade of life, Arteaga said, especially for males and children of high-school dropouts.

Support from the school districts, parents and the government are vital to the success of pre-school programs, which Arteaga said have proven to provide advantages in school readiness and performance, enrollment, higher educational attainment and socioeconomic status.

“Preschool programs are one of the most cost-effective of all social programs, yet only three percent of the $14 billion given to serve low-income children under the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ goes to preschool,” Arteaga said. “State and federal policies need to reflect the importance and advantages of early-childhood education.”