High quality early childhood education is a tool to break the cycle of poverty

Written by: Bill Jaeger
Date Posted: May 17, 2019

This week, Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman released his team’s latest findings about the long-term, and now inter-generational, impacts of targeted, high quality early childhood investments. He based his findings on longitudinal data from the Perry Preschool Program that began more than five decades ago. Children who benefit from intensive high-quality early childhood experiences see significantly improved life outcomes, including higher educational attainment, less criminal justice involvement, greater health outcomes, improved marriage stability, delayed child-bearing and a greater likelihood of providing their children with a stable two-parent home.

Even more significantly, the new data illustrate the second-generation impacts on the children of Perry Preschool Program participants. These children had a greater probability of completing high school without a suspension, of never being suspended, addicted, or arrested, and of being employed full-time. The spillover benefits of the intensive early childhood program to a subsequent generation demonstrates one of the many ways high quality early childhood education can help lift families out of poverty and sustain those gains for decades.

One notable finding was the positive long-term impact of intensive, high quality early childhood education for boys. Children of parents who attended the high-quality Perry Preschool Program in the 1960s were, in general, better educated, healthier, better employed and more likely to stay married, but the effects were pronounced for boys born to preschool-educated fathers. These effects were true even though program graduates were not more likely to grow up in safer or more affluent neighborhoods than their parents, further illustrating the causal link between strong investments in early development and long-term life outcomes.

These findings underscore the need for Colorado to look closely at the design of, and access to, our state-funded early childhood education programs. We know that graduates of our own state-funded Colorado Preschool Program are less likely to be retained in the early grades, less likely to be identified with a significant reading deficiency under the READ Act, more likely to read on grade level, and more likely to graduate high school.

Despite these positive impacts, only one in four at-risk four-year-olds has access to the program and we have much to do to enhance the program’s reach and impact if we are to hope for the same long-term benefits seen in Heckman’s studies. The Children’s Campaign is looking forward to the coming year to work with partners to expand and enhance preschool to extend the positive impacts we know high quality early childhood education can have for children and families.

Bill Jaeger

About Bill Jaeger

Bill Jaeger, Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Children's Campaign, has spent the past decade teaching, studying, and working on issues in public education and public policy. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s in education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education before working as a public school teacher and administrator in the greater Hartford, Connecticut area for several years. Bill also holds master’s degrees in public policy and political science and worked in several positions in the non-profit sector prior to joining the Colorado Children’s Campaign as Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives. Bill is a graduate of Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs and enjoys spending time in the mountains with his wife, son, daughter, and golden retriever.