Early Childhood

Chicago Data Bolster Case for Early-Childhood Programs

By Linda Jacobson — August 14, 2007 4 min read
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Young children who took part in an intervention program run by the Chicago public schools continue to benefit from the services well into adulthood, the latest data from a long-range study of the participants shows.

At age 24, the adults had acquired more education and were less likely to have committed crimes than those who did not receive the same level of service, according to the study results released Aug. 6.

In addition, the sample that attended the district’s Child-Parent Centers—which serve preschoolers through 3rd graders—were more likely to have health insurance and be less apt to exhibit symptoms of depression.

“This study provides evidence that established early educational interventions can positively influence the adult life course in several domains of functioning,” writes Arthur J. Reynolds, a child-development professor at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the director of the study, which appears in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a monthly journal. “That the impacts of intervention extend beyond educational performance is not surprising given the well-documented links between education outcomes and adult health, mental health, and social behavior.”

In an e-mail, he added that “these findings are especially relevant to schools and policymakers in decisions about modifying existing programs or expanding access to early education.”

The Chicago Longitudinal Study, which started more than 20 years ago, originally included 1,539 children from low-income African-American and Hispanic families who began the program at 25 sites in either 1985 or 1986.

For the study of 24-year-olds, data were available for 1,389 people—902 of whom had participated in the program and 487 of whom had been enrolled in other types of early-childhood programs or had attended full-day kindergarten but hadn’t attended preschool.

Comprehensive Services

The Child-Parent Centers program began in 1967 at sites located either in or close to elementary schools. Similar to the federal Head Start program, the Child-Parent Centers provide comprehensive education, health, and family-support services to children ages 3 through 9. Parents are expected to participate in the classroom, and children are sometimes visited in their homes.

While the connection between preschool teachers with bachelor’s degrees and learning outcomes for children is still being debated among some experts in the field, Mr. Reynolds said that feature contributed to the program’s lasting success.

“Well-trained and well-compensated staff are common for programs demonstrating long-term effects,” he writes.

Together with the High/Scope Perry Preschool study in Ypsilanti, Mich., and the Abecedarian project in Chapel Hill, N.C., the Child-Parent Centers program is known for leading to long-term positive outcomes and, as a result, economic benefits for society, such as lower special education costs and less welfare dependency.

Continued Benefits

Children who took part in the Chicago school system’s Child-Parent Center program fared well by age 24, according to a long-range study.


SOURCE: Chicago Longitudinal Study

Unlike the other two programs, the Child-Parent Centers program—which continues today—is not a small demonstration project. It is run by an urban school district, which leads many universal preschool advocates to argue that large-scale programs can be successful.

Nevertheless, Mr. Reynolds cautions against expecting such results from the many state- financed ventures currently operating throughout the country.

“The intervention effects are most likely to be reproduced in urban contexts serving relatively high concentrations of low-income children,” the study says.

Supporters of statewide, universal pre-K programs, however, are not deterred by such statements.

“We continue to believe that all kids benefit from pre-K,” said Libby Doggett, the executive director of Pre-K Now, a Washington-based advocacy group pushing for government-financed preschool for all children, regardless of their parents’ income level.

The results of Mr. Reynolds’ research also support a growing movement to better connect preschool programs to curriculum and experiences in the primary grades.

Mr. Reynolds was able to isolate benefits that were linked to full participation in the “extended intervention” through the primary grades, including lower rates of arrests for violence, higher rates of full-time employment, and higher rates of holding private health insurance.

“As more and more states and school districts either have pre-K programs in their schools or their communities, they begin to realize that it’s to their advantage to have some kind of connection with those programs,” said Ruby Takanishi, the president of the New York City-based Foundation for Child Development, which has been heavily engaged in promoting pre-K to 3 programs.

She argues that while many district leaders are supportive of serving preschool children, too few are taking advantage of the ability to use federal Title I money—the funding source used for the Child-Parent Centers program—to pay for it.

Not an Antidote

Even with the link between the Child-Parent Centers program and later positive outcomes, Mr. Reynolds points out, as other researchers have, that early-childhood-intervention programs do not completely protect children against the effects of poverty.

Although program participants were more likely than the control group to attend four-year colleges, only a small proportion did so—14.7 percent, compared with 10 percent.

And so far, Mr. Reynolds writes, “higher levels of education have not resulted in significant differences in income.”

The adults in the sample are now 27, and Mr. Reynolds’ study will follow them at least until age 30.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week as Chicago Data Bolster Case for Early-Childhood Programs


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