Preschool Critic Overlooks Three of the Best Studies

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To the Editor:

Gisèle Huff's Feb. 22, 2006, letter to the editor cites the results of the Goldwater Institute’s 2005 study comparing the performance of 4th graders in Europe and the United States to refute the importance of preschool. She then refers to Georgia’s 10-year-old universal preschool program to underscore her point. Nowhere, however, does she mention the three most widely respected studies on the benefits of preschool: the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, the Carolina Abecedarian Project, and the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program.

It is the High/Scope Perry model that is considered the gold standard because of its duration, its method of assigning children, and its follow-up. Launched in 1962, the longitudinal study involved 123 Ypsilanti, Mich., preschoolers who were randomly assigned to one of two groups, the first receiving high-quality preschool instruction, and the second receiving no preschool. All the children involved were African-Americans from families below the poverty line.

Data were collected every year from age 3 through 11, and then again at ages 14, 15, 19, 27 and 40—an extraordinarily long time span in educational research. Investigators looked not only at the academic performance of participants, but also at their overall lives. For the children who received preschool, they found that not only were their high school grade point averages higher, but that two-thirds graduated from high school by age 19 as well. Arguably more important, the impact of their preschool still persists, judging by such measures as income, crime, and family stability.

None of this is to suggest that preschool is a panacea. Schools are not Lourdes. At the end of the day, after the best instruction, children still have to return home. It is there that what transpires in school is either reinforced or not. Moreover, Rob Reiner’s preschool initiative in California has rightly drawn criticism because of several tactical blunders that seriously call into question its chances of passage. Nevertheless, Ms. Huff’s assessment is overly harsh.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles, Calif.

Vol. 25, Issue 26, Pages 30-31

Published in Print: March 8, 2006, as Preschool Critic Overlooks Three of the Best Studies

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