Early Intervention

It is often argued that providing supplementary preschool education is a cost-effective intervention because it has lifelong, long-term positive effects (i.e., increases the return on future investments). There has been much analysis, for example, of the Perry Preschool Program, a famous experiment on the effects of early education on the academic achievement of children in a low-income African American community. Under the experimental regimen, 123 African American children (ages 3-4) born into poverty were randomly assigned either to (a) a treatment group that received preschool for two years, or to (b) a control group that did not receive preschool education. The treatment group participated in a comprehensive program including education, health, and family support that operated five days a week for 2.5 hours per day. The children in the treatment group had consistently higher achievement test scores, high school graduation rates, postsecondary school attendance rates, employment rates, and earnings. When a cost-benefit analysis is completed, the results suggest that, by the time the participants were 40 years old, the program already had returned $12 in public savings for every dollar invested.

For recent arguments on behalf of early intervention, explore the research of our Center affiliate James Heckman, 2000 winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences (in Memory of Alfred Nobel). If you wish to volunteer in preschool education programs, consult volunteermatch.org for possible placements.