Preschool Study Finds Benefits Can Last Generations

If you're aware of the benefits of early education chances are you've heard at least a portion of the findings of a landmark study conducted more than 50 years ago. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project showed children who attend at least part-time preschool enjoy certain advantages later in life that fellow non-students do not. Now, new follow-up research shows those benefits may pass from one generation to the next.

In the mid 1960s the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project sought to break the cycle of poverty and raise the IQ level among predominately African American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan by providing them with part-time preschool and weekly home visits. The study involved 128 three and four year olds, half of whom were provided with 2 and a half hours of preschool Monday through Friday, and half of whom, as the control group, were not. 75% of those attending preschool did so for two years. The remaining 25% attended for one year. All the preschoolers also benefited from a weekly home visit by their teacher who would help engage their mother in the learning process.

Researchers then followed up with all 128 children more than 20 years later. The results showed the Perry kids attended, on average, one year more of schooling than the control group, needed fewer remedial resources, and were more likely to graduate. Researchers also found a number of other correlations: Perry participants were less likely to become pregnant as a teen, or give birth outside marriage; They were less likely to be arrested for violent crimes or serve time behind bars; And they made higher salaries.

It's been more than 50 years since the Perry Project culminated but researchers are noting its positive outcomes are crossing generations. This week, professor James Heckman released findings of a follow-up study involving the Perry Preschoolers and their children, who are now adults themselves. The study found the Perry participants were more likely to have stable marriages and stay married until their children turned 18. Their children were also more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to get in trouble with the law, and more likely to hold down a job than the control group's offspring.

While the Perry Project showed little effect on raising IQ, Professor Heckman argues the study's true success is determined by the "life-course gains" that lifted participants and their families out of poverty, and the resulting benefits to society. And he argues, the sooner in life children benefit from early education, the better off they will be down the line.

Sources: Evidence Summary for the Perry Preschool Project