The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study is a highly influential breakthrough study proving the essential impact of early intervention in shaping the lives of young minds. Through high quality early childhood education, children from at-risk environments showed marked increases in school success, employment, and family stability later in life, as well as significant declines in crime, poverty, and substance abuse. The overwhelming benefits illustrated in this study truly ignited the conversation on the critical nature of early intervention in the fight against poverty.
The High/Scope Perry Preschool study was the very first of its kind. Established by David Weikart and fellow researchers in 1965, the group sought to provide high quality early childhood education to children from low-income environments. They hypothesized that such early intervention would have the ability to increase a child’s potential in many aspects of life. They set out to track the progress of these students over a four-decade span and observe how the students enrolled in this program compared to individuals who were not provided early intervention services.
The study was comprised of 123 African American children born in the Ypsilanti, Michigan School District. Every child who participated came from a family of comparable low socioeconomic status and had parents who primarily did not graduate from high school. Prior to enrollment in the study children had I.Q. scores in the seventy to eighty-five range.
From the fall of 1962 until the fall of 1965 five successive classes entered the program. Throughout this time a flip of a coin placed 58 children in the program condition and 65 in the no-program control group. The program condition received classroom instruction from October through May at the ages of three and four, with 2.5 hours of daily in-class instruction followed by 1.5 hour teacher visits to their homes weekly. The curriculum of the preschool was structured by the tenets of Jean Piaget, emphasizing the notion that children are intentional learners who should be granted the freedom to shape their learning through play with the support of an instructor. In the no-program condition no instruction or home visits were provided. After the age of four the children in the program condition received no additional services.
Data regarding test performance in childhood and adolescence and school success was collected annually from the time each subject was three through eleven years old. After this time, data regarding outcomes of school success, personal development, crime, and socioeconomic status was collected from each subject at the ages of 14, 15, 19, 27, and most recently at ages 39-41.
The Perry Preschool Study was the most comprehensive longitudinal study of its nature done at that time. With this said, the results were simply astounding. Females in the program condition had a significantly higher rate of high school graduation compared to the control, with 84% successfully completing high school versus 35% in the no-program condition. By the age of 27 those in the program condition were found to have completed a significantly higher level of schooling than those who did not receive early intervention services. Furthermore, those in the program condition were found to have spent less than half the amount of time in special education programs as the control.
Children who received the High/Scope early intervention performed significantly better on intellectual and language tests starting after their first year of schooling until age seven. Additionally, general school achievement measured at age 14 was greater for the program condition and literacy tested at age 14 was markedly above the control. Motivation and high opinions of school were of significantly higher levels in the program condition compared to the control.
Beyond academic achievement, economic development was found to be consistently higher in the program condition through measures done at age 27 and a follow up at age 40. Significantly fewer individuals received welfare assistance compared to the control, whereas significantly more individuals in the program condition owned their own homes, possessed second cars, and had savings accounts. Furthermore, not only did the program condition have higher employment rates, but also males in the program condition generally had better-paying jobs. In family life, significantly more males in the program condition raised their own children and were married than those in the control condition.
Arrest rates decreased with half as many arrests on average in the program condition compared to the control. As a result, the time spent in prison was markedly decreased in the program condition. In addition, in terms of repeat offenders the males of the program group were one-fourth less likely than the control to be arrested five or more times.
From an economic perspective, according to one analyst, the cost-benefit ratio for investing in early intervention in this study came out to 7.16 to 1. Another group of researchers asserts that the estimated cost of providing each child with the program supplied to those in the treatment group today would be $15,166 for two years. Investing $15,166 in ensuring every child a solid early educational foundation reaped public benefits of $195,621 per participant. This number comes from money saved in decreased welfare, crime, special education, and justice system costs, and also takes into account the money gained from taxes due to increased earnings.
This study provides strong evidence that investing in early childhood education goes far beyond paying for itself throughout the course of one’s entire lifetime. The results of the study are very reliable, with only 6% of cases missing over the entire longitudinal span. Not only is the cost to society reduced in crime rates and welfare assistance but also the amount of capital generated by individuals who received a proper early-childhood educational foundation is increased, as is the unquantifiable measure of potential. Literacy, monthly earnings, family stability, years of schooling, intellectual performance, and motivation are all critical factors enhanced through this process.
Those who believe that these results do not indicate any practical significance need only look at the fact that violent crime rates were cut in half within the program group to see the very real world application of this foundation. However, researchers would like to stress that enhancing early childhood education is only part of a multifaceted solution to poverty. Education is key, but there still exists a myriad of other deterrents to success for those raised in low-income environments that go far beyond the classroom. It cannot be stressed enough that early intervention helps equip children with the motivation and skills necessary to help combat the barriers to success that stand in their way.
Since the results of this study were published, two other studies have been done of similar nature, the Abecedarian study and the Chicago Parent Center study, with similar benefits. In terms of progress, the Head Start program has been launched as an instrument of early intervention. However, researchers believe that these institutions are not following the outline of the Perry Preschool study closely enough to derive similar results. For example, only 20% of Head Start classrooms use the High/Scope curriculum. Furthermore, not all teachers are held to the same bachelor’s degree requirement seen as essential in the first study, nor are the teachers compensated as average public school teacher would be. These differences are manifested in lower test scores for Head Start students compared to those in the treatment condition of the Perry Preschool study. There is also a lesser investment in each child, with Head Start programs being significantly cheaper than the High/Scope initiative. If results are to be replicated, the same conditions must be provided.
Barnett, S., Belfield, C., Montie, J., Nores, M., Scheweihart, L., and Xiang, Z. “The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age Forty.” High/Scope Education Research Foundation (2005), High/Scope Press. Web.
Schweinhart, Lawerence J. "Benefits, Costs, and Explanation of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program." High/Scope Educational Research Foundation (2003). Society for Research in Child Development. Web. <http://www.highscope.org/file/Research/PerryProject/Perry-SRCD_2003.pdf>
For more information, please visit http://highscope.org/Content.asp?ContentId=219
— Prepared by Ashlin Orr, Kinder Institute Intern, 2011-12.