Preschool Study Finds Long-Term Gains
Nearly two decades after they attended an experimental preschool program in a low-income neighborhood in Ypsilanti, Mich., the small group of young people monitored in a now-well-known study continue to fare better as students, workers, and citizens than children from the same neighborhood who did not attend the preschool.
These latest findings of the longitudinal "Ypsilanti study"--one of the first efforts to analyze the effects of preschool education on children and a model for the Head Start programs established under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964--were made known at last month's annual policy conference of the High Scope Educational Research Foundation.
The foundation, a nonprofit organization supported by the Carnegie Foundation and others, plans to release the full report of its new findings in the $3-million study next month.
According to the study, the low-income children who attended the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti beginning in the fall of 1962 were far more likely to have graduated from high school, to have become economically self-sufficient, and to have avoided breaking the law by the time they reached age 19 than were other students from the same south-side Ypsilanti neighborhood who did not attend the school.
The students who attended the preschool were also less likely to be enrolled in special-education programs than were the other students, said John Clement, research and national projects coordinator for High Scope.
Between 1962 and 1965, five waves of children were included in the study, half in the experimental group that attended the preschool and half in the control group that did not. Mr. Clement said High Scope researchers will continue to follow the comparative attainments of the two groups through age 25 and possibly later.
Among the findings of the most recent analysis:
Some 67 percent of the students who attended preschool completed high school by age 19, compared to 49 percent of the nonpreschool children who finished school.
Some 38 percent of the preschool children were receiving some kind of postsecondary training, compared to 21 percent of the nonpreschool children.
By the time they reached 19, 50 percent of the preschool children were employed, while 32 percent of the nonpreschoolers had jobs.
Only 17 percent of students who attended preschool received general-assistance welfare benefits, while 37 percent of the nonpreschoolers were on the welfare rolls.
Of 25 girls who attended the preschool, 17 reported pregnancies or births by age 19, while 24 girls who did not attend the Perry Preschool reported 28 pregnancies or births.
The preschool children reported far fewer arrests (and far less serious offenses) than students who did not attend preschool. The preschool group had 73 arrests, compared to 145 arrests for the nonpreschool group.
The High Scope study, to be published by High Scope Press, also indicates that "benefits to school systems from reduced special-education costs are close to being sufficient by themselves to justify the original outlay of funds" for preschool programs, according to Mr. Clement.
Students who attended the preschool program spent 16 percent of their school time in special-education programs, while nonpreschoolers spent 28 percent of their time in such programs, Mr. Clement said.
Total savings on educational costs were high for the group of students who attended preschool, Mr. Clement said. "There was a return of 88 cents on the dollar in reduced educational costs for students who attended preschool."
Benefits to Community
The savings to school districts--and taxpayers--were partially offset by the fact that the preschool students stayed in high school longer, Mr. Clement pointed out. But he noted that the additional benefits to the community--including reduced need for welfare, better earnings, and reduced crime--more than offset the costs of the program.
"If you project ahead for lifetime income," he said, preschool programs recover "three or four times" the initial cost.
The High Scope study was one of 14 studies that were pooled in 1975 to become the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies under the direction of Irving Lazar and Richard Darlington of Cornell University.
With funds from the U.S. Health and Human Service's Department's office for children, youth, and families and the Hewlett Foundation, the Cornell researchers merged and analyzed the studies' data to produce a detailed review of preschool education programs for children from low-income families. The positive findings of the consortium's studies, Mr. Lazar said, were among those that worked to eliminate negative perceptions of Head Start programs among social-policy analysts and the public at large.
Those perceptions, the researcher said, had grown after the government released a study in 1969 indicating that the effects of Head Start on students in the first years of the program had been slight or negligible.
The study, conducted by Westinghouse Learning Corporation and Ohio University, has been repeatedly criticized by researchers, Mr. Lazar said.
"It did not take into consideration when students joined Head Start and it erroneously based comparisons of student attainment on I.Q. levels," he pointed out.
Raymond C. Collins, director of the office of program development for the federal children and families office, has written at length criticizing the methodology of the Westinghouse study. There is a "serious question," he said, about whether the Westinghouse study accurately represented the condition of Head Start in 1968. But he added that the information collected since 1968 in hundreds of studies has repeatedly shown positive gains for the children involved in the early-childhood education programs.
For example, he said, a 1977 study conducted for his office that combined research on 59 Head Start programs, "clearly indicated" the positive effects of Head Start on children from low income families. A follow-up study, the Head Start Synthesis Project, is now under way, Mr. Collins said.