We generally find ourselves in agreement with the columns written by Dan Walters, esteemed Sacramento journalist from CALmatters, and formerly the Sacramento Bee. His recent column, "Can California Close its 'Achievement Gap?'” (April 1) is a notable exception.
Mr. Walters opines that if we invest more in early childhood education, as Governor Newsom has advocated, “we shouldn’t be terribly optimistic that early childhood education will be any more successful than LCFF.” Leaving aside the debate about LCFF, let’s address what we know about early childhood education.
Professor James Heckman, University of Chicago’s prize-winning economist, has focused much of his work on the impact of different social programs and the methodologies used to measure those program’s effects.
While most existing research on the effectiveness of early childhood programs largely focuses on short-term academic gains, Heckman and associates have found that the more relevant measure of value is the long-term health, social and economic benefits produced for both the individual children and their families.
In a randomized-controlled preschool experiment conducted in North Carolina in the 1970s that provided comprehensive care to under-resourced children from birth to age five including meals, health care services and early learning, and followed the participants into adulthood, they found:
1. For female participants in the program, quality early childhood education had positive effects on high school graduation, years of education, adult employment and the adult labor incomes of participants and their parents. Male participants also saw positive effects on education and later labor incomes, but the long-term health effects for these children were particularly compelling, showing lower drug use, blood pressure, and hypertension.
2. The program had a strong effect on the mother’s income and educational attainment which persisted through the participant reaching 21 years of age, signifying this program positively impacted the economic outcomes of the children as well as their parent(s).
All told, this represented a 13.7 percent-per-year return on investment (tax-adjusted). Their benefit/cost analysis predicted the program generated a benefit of over $7 for every dollar spent. Their conclusion, therefore, was that “while high-quality, early childhood interventions are viewed by some as “expensive,” especially if the research focuses primarily on test scores in the short term, these long term benefits indicate that early childhood interventions might instead be viewed as equitable and efficient investments.”
Napa County Superintendent of Schools
National Superintendent of the Year 1992
Trustee, NCOE Board of Education