Opinion
Early Childhood Opinion

Want to Beat the Stock Market? Bet on Early-Childhood Education

By Arthur J. Reynolds — September 19, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over the past half-century, one of the best financial investments has been in the Dodge & Cox Stock Fund. This mutual fund has achieved an inflation-adjusted average annual return of 8 percent since its founding in 1965—it’s in the top 1 percent of investment funds tracked over that period.

What if I told you that a public investment in young children beginning at age 3 had an average annual return that was more than double the D&C Fund? Sounds far-fetched, but it’s true. In 1967, around the same time the D&C Fund began, the Chicago school district opened four Child-Parent Education Centers in high-poverty neighborhoods. The proven financial success of this program should serve as powerful inducement for districts across the country to make a similar investment in the future of their youngest residents.

BRIC ARCHIVE

After five decades and more than 250,000 families served, the CPC program is arguably one of the nation’s most effective social programs. Now in its third generation as a P-3 school-reform model, the program and its unique success provide an approach and set of action steps to innovate in education to produce even better investment returns. Collaborative leadership, engaged learning, small classes, and comprehensive family and instructional supports are core elements.

In fact, CPC has one of the highest economic returns of any public or private financial investment. Cost-benefit analyses have shown that for every dollar invested, more than $10 is returned in cost savings in the areas of remedial education and criminal justice, coupled with an increase in economic well-being and tax revenues. That is an inflation-adjusted annual return of 18 percent over a child’s lifetime, a cumulative return of 900 percent. In the 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama even cited the research into CPC’s return on investment as a major basis of his Preschool for All initiative.

CPC began as a preschool program at the start of the nation’s War on Poverty. Given high levels of community distrust of schools and associated underachievement, Chicago’s West Side schools needed innovative solutions. Then-schools Superintendent Lorraine Sullivan worked with the community to open four early-learning centers for 3- and 4-year-olds in the city’s highest-poverty areas. The centers soon expanded to offer services to children up to the 3rd grade.

After five decades and more than 250,000 families served, the CPC program is arguably one of the nation's most effective social programs."

The strong success of the program’s first generation of schools was evident early on. Graduates performed on average six months ahead of their nonprogram peers in school-readiness skills. This success has been reproduced in the current program expansion. That and other impacts—such as higher rates of high school diploma attainment and college graduation, lower rates of crime and health-compromising behaviors, and greater economic well-being—have been sustained for decades.

In addition to being the first preschool program funded by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s Title I for disadvantaged students, CPC was also among the first to provide integrated and co-located services from preschool to 3rd grade. In the historically fragmented world of early-childhood education, the program has succeeded in maintaining strong learning environments that improve well-being in all dimensions: academic, social-emotional, health, and family behavior.

To date, the program has expanded beyond Chicago to the states of Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and it’s on a growth trajectory. In Chicago, the number of CPC schools has ballooned to 19 since 2012; preschool enrollment has more than doubled, and total program enrollment this year through 3rd grade is nearly 10,000. An early-childhood-education initiative launched by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013, which was based on the return-on-investment research, has helped strengthen the program. Scaling further is now a major goal.

This evidence-based, integrative approach is key to reducing the nearly 50 percent of children who are estimated to enter kindergarten not fully prepared to succeed. The discontinuity between preschool and school-age environments also lowers achievement excellence. It is, for example, jarring when children in preschool classes of 17 (the maximum allowed class size at CPC) graduate to kindergarten classes of more than 30 (the Chicago public school average). Although good preschool programs can substantially improve school readiness, they are not enough to raise 3rd and 4th grade reading and math proficiency to the needed levels.

CPC is a blueprint for addressing those problems. Although the operational elements that produce sustained gains and high returns are well-documented, the essential feature is creating a purposeful and nurturing environment for all learners.

Return on investment is an increasingly important priority in social programs and evidence-based policy. The business- and financial-services industry is founded on that principle. Education programs like CPC have proved that they can exceed even the best of investments in the stock market over the long term. It is time to take the next step and fully scale these programs so that all young people can benefit.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2017 edition of Education Week as When Early-Ed. Investments Pay Off

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Reading & Literacy K-12 Essentials Forum Writing and the Science of Reading
Join us for this free event as we highlight and discuss the intersection of reading and writing with Education Week reporters and expert guests.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood Q&A An Investment in Early-Childhood Education Is Paying Off Big
Richard Tomko believes that expanding the early education pipeline buffers schools against enrollment loss and academic struggles.
2 min read
Dr. Richard Tomko, Superintendent of Belleville Public Schools in Belleville, N.J., visits science teacher Paul Aiello’s Medical Academy Field Experience class on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The Medical Academy’s class uses Anatamoge tables, an anatomy visualization system that allows students to garner a deeper, comprehensive understanding of the human body and medical tools to prepare them for careers in the medical field.
Richard Tomko, superintendent of Belleville Public Schools in Belleville, N.J., has expanded academic programs while restoring trust in the school system.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Early Childhood Opinion What K-12 Can Learn from Pre-K
Early-childhood education has valuable lessons to share with K-12.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood Which States Offer Universal Pre-K? It's More Complicated Than You Might Think
Universal pre-K is growing in popularity. Here are the states that have already established universal preschool programs or policies.
2 min read
Early Childhood Support for Universal Pre-K Grows as More States Jump on Board
New Mexico became the latest state to approve investments in pre-K programs.
5 min read
A Pre-K student plays with the class guinea pig at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Aug. 17, 2021. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states offering universal pre-k to all students.
A prekindergarten student plays with the class guinea pig at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City, Okla., in 2021. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states offering universal pre-K.
Sue Ogrocki/AP