- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

Poor children who attended a premier preschool in the 1960s were more likely to graduate from high school, hold a job and stay out of jail than peers who didn’t get an early education, says a landmark study that tracked the children for 40 years.

“The bottom line is that high-quality early care and education programs not only raise high school graduation rates and test scores but, decades later, they lead to higher incomes and lower crime rates,” said Lawrence J. Schweinhart, president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, which yesterday released the study of the Perry Preschool program.

The study shows a $17 return for every tax dollar invested in high-quality early education. It also urges policy-makers to offer similar preschool programs to all low-income children.

“America cannot afford to ignore the evidence from the Perry Preschool program,” Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera, a leader of the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids crime prevention group, said yesterday.

Hallmarks of the Ypsilanti, Mich.-based Perry Preschool program include its five-day-a-week classes of 21/2 hours or longer led by credentialed teachers who were paid public-school-level salaries. The program kept 1-to-8 teacher-student ratios, encouraged children to initiate some learning activities and required teachers to meet regularly with the children’s families.

The original Perry Preschool program ran from 1962 to 1967 and has continued in different forms since then, Mr. Schweinhart said.

Most child care advocates are likely to agree with the study’s findings. “Unfortunately, what we sometimes see is policy-makers may take these kinds of results and think that we can get these results on the cheap,” said Marilou Hyson of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

If states just create preschool “slots” for children but don’t use credentialed teachers or involve families, “we’re promising something that can’t be delivered,” she said.

Allan C. Carlson, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, cautioned that a revival of the Perry Preschool model probably isn’t feasible.

The preschool was “heavily funded” and had core aspects, such as weekly home visits, “that are not and cannot be replicated in a normal day-care setting or normal Head Start setting,” said Mr. Carlson, who also is president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. A better policy for preschoolers, he said, is “having 20 million better parents. Group care is no solution to anything.”

The Perry Preschool Project started in 1962 with 123 children, ages 3 and 4, from low-income black families in Ypsilanti. Fifty-eight of the children were randomly assigned to the Perry Preschool; the rest did not attend a preschool.

Researchers compared the two groups of children throughout their school years and at ages 17, 27 and 40. They found that, at age 40, Perry Preschool graduates were:

• More likely to be employed (76 percent versus 62 percent).

• More likely to have higher median income ($20,800 vs. $15,300).

• More likely to own a house (37 percent vs. 28 percent) and a car (82 percent vs. 60 percent).

• More likely to have a savings account (76 percent vs. 50 percent).

• More likely to have graduated from high school (65 percent vs. 45 percent)

• More likely to get along very well with their families (75 percent vs. 64 percent).

• Less likely to have a drug-related criminal record (14 percent vs. 34 percent).

The study estimated that the economic return from higher tax revenues, lower need for welfare support and less criminal activity was $258,888 per child on an investment of $15,166, or $17 for every $1.

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