Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Preschool Matters

A recent segment and blog post on National Public Radio (NPR) highlighted preschool as the best job-training program currently available. The segment included, James Heckman, a Nobel-Prize winning economist, who found that when comparing a group of workers that had gone through a job training program with a group that hadn't, the training program did nothing to help the workers get better jobs and in some cases even led to worse outcomes. Heckman notes that the students in the training program could not learn the new information provided because they lacked what he determined to be “soft skills” (the ability to focus and pay attention, being curious and open to new experiences, and the capacity to control ones’ temper). Heckman further discovered that these skills are not developed at the secondary or elementary school level, but are learned earlier - in preschool.

In Heckman’s original report about the Perry preschool program in Ypsilanti, Michigan in the 1960’s, he cites the long-term impact of early childhood education. As noted in the NPR segment, the project divided children from the same community into two randomly assigned groups: the first group went to preschool for two hours a day, five days a week (treatment group) and the second group did not attend preschool (control group). Following the experiment, both groups of children went to the same public schools and grew up with similar community conditions. After following the children for 30 years, researchers found that boys in the treatment group were half as likely to be arrested and earned 50 percent more in salary. The girls in the treatment group were 50 percent more likely to have savings accounts and 20 percent more likely to have a car. In all, the preschool group was less likely to become sick, experience unemployment, and go to jail. The study found that the public gained $12.90 for every $1.00 spent on the program. A report by NCSL further concludes that early childhood care and education has a higher return to unit dollar invested than any skill development investment including school, college, and job training.

The report by Heckman displays the importance of early childhood education. However, many families in the United States cannot afford quality preschool programs. Head Start was created to provide preschool programs for children and families living in poverty; however, the program is not large enough to reach all the children in need. When compared to other western countries the United States’ preschool attendance rates are low: in the United States attendance rates are only 70 percent, while in Western European countries attendance rates are between 90 and 100 percent. The high rates of children in the United States that do not attend, or have access to, high-quality pre-school are at a disadvantage from very early on, and as Heckman points out, this strongly affects the development of employment skills and job readiness in adulthood.

Creating a competitive workforce in the United States is important for all Americans and universal pre-school is an important step in ensuring that children in the United States grow into productive, successful adults; leading to both more stable and secure families and a stronger economy.

For more information on increasing quality early care and education and improving K-3 academic success, visit


  1. It is much harder for a Hispanic immigrant child to thrive due to the language barrier and to academic skill deficits. I tutored a bright 5-year old Hispanic who was entering kindergarten and did not know letters, phonics, numbers, and had too short an attention span to listen to simple books. This is a motivated child with a father who does not read or speak English and a mother who returns home at 7:30 PM. Preschool would have helped. Secretary Duncan is backing technology. Have you considered using Livescribe digital smartpens to accelerate the learning of Hispanic children? The child would never miss a word of a teacher’s English lesson, or math lesson. Livescribe pens can be used to create interactive flash cards, and sound stickers for Word Walls. Store math and English exercises on the pen or on the computer for work at home. Send notes and school work home on the pen, or parent’s concerns to the teacher. Use Livescribe sound stickers to create interactive storybooks similar to Leapfrog Early Reader Story Books that the child can read alone. The child can learn while having fun!
    The parent will never miss a thought in a conference or tutoring session Use Livescribe Digital Smartpen
    Susan Coursey, Editor

  2. Thanks for sharing this very informative post to us about preschool. This will surely help parents. Keep posting!