New study: Quality birth-to-five programs for at-risk kids pay off

High-quality child care beginning at birth not only produces economic benefits to mother and child, it raises IQ, says a new study. (AJC file)

In his widely cited 2009 study, Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman documented a 7 to 10 percent annual return on investments in quality preschool programs for 3-and 4-year-olds. In a study released today, Heckman makes an even more compelling economic argument for programs that begin at birth.

Heckman and his team found high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent per-child, per-year return on investment through reduced crime and health costs and better outcomes in education, civic engagement and employment.

In their study, “The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” Heckman and colleagues from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center followed 121 children in two high-quality North Carolina child care programs through age 35 to quantify the impact of early learning.

“We are talking about 50 weeks a year for the first 5 years, 8 to 9 hours a day, in terms of engagement of the child,” said Heckman in a press call with reporters.

“Not only did this program provide high-quality child care from the earliest years, it provides a form of subsidy for women to go back to the workplace. It has a two-generation impact,” he said. “It lets women complete more education and gain more workplace skills. And it also turns out to improve the lives of their children. The kids are actually enriched.”

The researchers analyzed the effects of two similar, randomized-controlled preschool experiments in North Carolina in the 1970’s: The Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education. The programs provided comprehensive developmental resources to disadvantaged African-American children from birth to age five, including nutrition, access to healthcare and early learning. Children were randomly assigned into either the treatment group or a control group that had access to alternatives such as lower quality center-based care or in-home care.

The study collected data on cognitive and socio-emotional skills, education, and family economic characteristics from the participants annually through age 8 and then at ages 12, 15, 21, and 30. There was a full medical survey at age 35 and a review of any criminal activity.

While state-funded pre-kindergartens target 4-year-olds, the programs in the study enrolled infants at 8 weeks old when “human skills are most fluid,” said Heckman. That early exposure to quality child care and engaging caregivers paid off with boost in IQ that followed children into adulthood.

“We found most of the growth in IQ in terms of cognitive skills has taken place by age 3,” said Heckman.

Research on pre-k programs, including his own study of the Perry Preschool Project, didn’t find lasting improvements in IQ, said Heckman. But the IQ and cognitive gains to the children who began the North Carolina programs as infants endured through the final IQ testing at age 21.

The takeaway on IQ enhancement: “The sooner the better, the earlier the better,” said Heckman. “That lasting effect in cognition, combined with increased social and emotional skills that are known to drive achievement, were factors in better outcomes and returns on investment.”

In response to questions on costs of birth to five programs, Heckman said such program are expensive  — about $18,500 per year per child  — but so are many public projects, such as the Hoover Dam and the U.S. highway system. No one faults spending on the dam or the highways because of the clear benefits, he said.

Heckman said it’s important to also consider the benefits of public investments in early care, citing improved social mobility and economic opportunities, increased social engagement and reductions in healthcare costs and crime.

“This is very strong evidence for supporting this kind of program going forward,” he said. “The data speaks for itself. Investing in the continuum of learning from birth to age 5 not only impacts each child, but it also strengthens our country’s workforce today and prepares future generations to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

Asked to define quality child care, Heckman said the key was not whether caregivers held college degrees but whether they were trained to engage with the children and their parents. “Parents are the key,” he said. “These programs teach parents about giving individual attention to the child; they teach the parent the value of one-to-one interaction.”

Effective caregivers explain their approach as doing for the children in their care what they did for their own children, said Heckman. “The scarce resource here is mother love. These are things that don’t require a vast amount of money, per say; they do require human empathy. It is not a question of getting a Ph.D. in child development or low-teacher pupil ratios. Think of it as a question of getting human empathy.”

An interesting finding in Heckman’s study that echoes other research: Quality child care and engagement matter more for boys than girls. Girls appear to have greater resiliency so they are less affected by tenuous environments than boys.

As a group, girls develop more quickly than boys and have greater language and capacity for self-control by age 3 and 4, said Heckman. Boys pay a greater price for being in inferior child care and suffer more lasting consequences.

Heckman’s study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

18 comments
bu22
bu22

Key word is "quality."  Head Start, the federal program trying to do basically the same thing had no impact after a couple of years according to various studies.  Mass producing quality is very difficult.  The federal government has proven incapable of it.  Local schools districts have been very spotty.  So we would be spending vast amounts of dollars with very limited impact.  Probably the places with the biggest positive impact would be the places already doing very well.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"Heckman and his team found high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent per-child, per-year return on investment through reduced crime and health costs and better outcomes in education, civic engagement and employment."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


I have no doubt that this is true based on my 35 years in public education.  However, most of the American populace are not wise enough, yet, based on comments below, to let those facts sink into to their minds as to how to improve the American society for all people.  Too many people still prefer to blame others, which is about as foolish a solution as can be imagined.


In my leadership roles, serving families from children from 1st through 12 grades, I had recommended to my superiors in the countywide Department of Instruction that pediatricians work with school personnel as soon as newborns are delivered to know who these children are and to recommend academic and social support for them.  That coordination and practice, more than anything, imo, would solve the large range of instructional levels in each grade level from kindergarten through high school.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

So, the dullards breed like rabbits, don't have enough sense to realize that they cannot afford their brood of 6-12 kids, and the authors solution is to spend $18,500 per year to house break them before they wreak havoc on the schools.

Great idea, Cosmo.


I keep flashing back to the "news" article about the welfare brood mare with twelve kids complaining that "Somebody has gots to pay for all deez chillun''.


Here's a novel idea, MANDATORY BIRTH CONTROL FOR WELFARE RECIPIENTS.  While we're at it, before they get public benefits, they name the sperm donor and we confirm with dna testing.  Start paying for your little ba****ds or we chemically castrate you.

Classof98
Classof98

Herein lies the difference between liberals and conservatives.  Liberals want to confiscate money (in the form of taxation) to provide schooling and daycare for these "underprivileged" children.  Conservatives say, "uh, maybe we should encourage people to wait to have children until they can afford them". Liberals never seem to grasp a very, very simple concept at that is this:  IF YOU SUBSIDIZE SOMETHING, YOU GET MORE OF IT.  Do we want MORE single mothers and "underprivileged" children?  Then by all means, encourage young single women to get pregnant.  Why not?  Uncle Sam will pay for everything.

Amber George
Amber George

@Classof98  I think one thing you need to consider here is that without some of these quality early childhood programs the cycle will just continue. The children will continue to live in poverty and raise more children in poverty over and over. Providing access to quality birth to 5 programs and even programs/education for the parents prior to having children or during pregnancy could make a lot of difference.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@taylor48 @Classof98 Yes, encouraging passive forms of birth control would be a great start.  And would be a great way to cut the number of abortions performed.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Classof98 I think it is like the rabbit analog:  if you have 10 starving rabbits, do you feed them?  If you feed them, you will soon have 100 starving rabbits.  You need to provide birth control, instead.

taylor48
taylor48

@Classof98 If conservatives are so concerned about single mothers,  why are they hell-bent on preventing not only abortion, but also access to contraception?  It would seem to me that promoting responsible parenthood would start with giving ALL women access to the contraception that works best in their life, so they can wait until they are financially secure in order to become parents.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@L_D @class80olddog @taylor48 @Classof98 After completing a study on abstinence only programs, I can say conclusively that they are harmful. Instead of protecting our children against STD's and pregnancy, rates in schools that promote abstinence only show that rates are higher than schools that provide a comprehensive sex-ed program. 

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

Pelosied's point is dead on correct. But, this is the elephant sitting on the sofa, the gorilla in the corner, etc. that is never acknowledged or discussed. 


To address it would require a cultural shift of what would now be of momentous proportions - too bad this underlying problem - that negatively impacts every thing - and I mean every thing - in black America was not addressed decades ago. 


And of course, we need "new federal programs."  Ever heard that one before? That is because it is so much easier to decry white racism, poverty, and lack of funding as the faux causes. And of course, there is never enough money in public education, no matter who, what, why, when, or where, there is never enough money, and there never will be enough. 


And of course, poverty destroys families. Right? You got that? That is now federal and welfare state Gospel. Do not dispute it. Never speak the truth. The truth being that "families, and especially strong families - regardless of their poor means and resources at first - rise up, one generation standing on the shoulders of the previous generation, and destroy poverty" - not the other way around. But, it may be too late for that strong message of truth to ever be acknowledged or to do any good now. 


Yet whole generations before were very well educated for a fraction of the cost today because parents were heavily involved - and the ongoing decline of parental involvement in educating their children, which is true for all races, is taking its toll. But especially in black America where now several generations have been affected, and it just keeps on getting passed on to the next generation - with worsening results each time as the family structure slowly disintegrates. 


But it is not addressed at all. Obama could have made an enormous contribution using his presidential bully pulpit to shine the light on this slow cultural suicide, brought on by the Great Society and the welfare state decades ago. But to his great discredit, he, like everyone else, has just stood by and watched this slow cultural suicide progress. 


The impact of this may never be over come now. Over 70% of black children are born to single mothers. And teachers are on the front lines, and being called upon more and more to take on parental duties and responsibilities, because if they don't, who will? No wonder they are so belaguered and unhappy, and the system is groaning, and for black children, failing them. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Ficklefan

You are wrong in your premise that  “..whole generations before were very well educated for a fraction of the cost today because parents were heavily involved - and the ongoing decline of parental involvement in educating their children, which is true for all races, is taking its toll.”

Among the data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ review of 120 years of U.S. Education:

By 1960, 42 percent of males, 25 years old and over, still had completed no more than the eighth grade, but 40 percent had completed high school and 10 percent had completed 4 years of college. The corresponding proportion for women completing high school was about the same, but the proportion completing college was somewhat lower.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, illiteracy was very common. In 1870, 20 percent of the entire adult population was illiterate, and 80 percent of the black population was illiterate. By 1900, the situation had improved somewhat, but still 44 percent of blacks remained illiterate. The statistical data show significant improvements for black and other races in the early portion of the 20th century, as the former slaves who had no educational opportunities in their youth were replaced by younger individuals who grew up in the post-Civil War period and often had some chance to obtain a basic education. The gap in illiteracy between white and black adults continued to narrow through the 20th century, and in 1979 the rates were about the same.

Two hundred thirty Southern counties did not have a single high school for black students in 1932—even though every one of these counties possessed a high school for whites. In 16 states there was not a single state-supported black institution that offered graduate or professional programs. Northern white philanthropists, sometimes explicitly acknowledging that their goal was to prevent "competition between the races," often insisted that their charity be used to build black "industrial schools/' training African Americans for manual labor. Only African Americans and some white progressive educators dissented from the mainstream assumption that tax money spent on black education was a waste of money. Black communities throughout the country built schools for themselves and hired instructors for the most difficult subjects. Black academics such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and E, Franklin Frazier attacked intelligence testing and educational discrimination that validated the status quo. They were combating years of neglect and racism. In 1930, 15 percent of rural adult African Americans had no formal schooling, and 48 percent had never gone beyond the fifth grade. White school boards paid white teachers an average annual salary of $833; black teachers, who had larger teaching loads, were paid only $510. Ironically, the Depression improved the situation of black education in many ways. In northern schools, school boards began to abolish segregated education as a way of saving money; in the South educators fearful of the possible consequences of unschooled, unemployed youths succeeded in getting school districts to build high schools for blacks—if for no other reason than to keep them off the streets. Thanks to such programs and to literacy campaigns mounted by New Deal agencies such as the National Youth Administration (NYA), by 1940 five hundred thousand illiterate blacks had been taught to read and write. The number of African Americans attending high school doubled; the number of high-school graduates tripled; and the percentage of blacks attending school became equal to that of whites.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney @Ficklefan


"By 1960, 42 percent of males, 25 years old and over, still had completed no more than the eighth grade, but 40 percent had completed high school and 10 percent had completed 4 years of college. "


Yet...The people you mention invented:


1) Atomic energy


2) Mainframe computers


3) Electrification


4) Aviation


5) Jet travel


6) Space travel


That is a half dozen (I'd say) pretty important accomplishments by people that you seem to disdain.And I didn't even try very hard to come up with this small list.I'm sure others could do a lot better.



Hard to see how we could have improved on all of those things with a nation of single parent households.

taylor48
taylor48

@Ficklefan You also fail to acknowledge that our costs in education have risen as a direct result of IDEA.  Now, students who are disabled (whether physically, intellectually, or emotionally) MUST be educated by the public school system.  I firmly believe that it is the right of every child to receive an education, but, for some children, that education comes with an enormous cost.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@taylor48 @Ficklefan If there were no Federal funds, then schools would not have to implement those extremely costly IDEA requirements.  Now schools have to essentially provide medical care (suctioning every two minutes) to some students, not the parents' insurance.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaureenDowney @Ficklefan

$833 in 1930 dollars equate to $12,000 today.  Given that the average teacher salary is about $55,000, I'd say that @ficklfan is correct in saying that they educated for a fraction of what it costs today.

Pelosied
Pelosied

Are both mothers and fathers important? One would guess they are, and yet Heckman only mentions mothers' love as key to childhood development.

Rather than another extremely expensive federal aid program, why not make a serious effort at reconstituting the black family? Right now 3 out of 4 black children grow up without a father in the home, but the media are indifferent to this problem of abandonment.

Amber George
Amber George

@Pelosied  I'm curious why this has to be a "black family" problem and I would like to see some citation for the statistic you listed there. To address your point, this article is referring to children who live in poverty and have decreased access to educational opportunities ages birth to 5. This is an issue affecting people living in poverty/having limited education, not just blacks. From my experience growing up in rural northern Georgia and then teaching in schools with a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, this impacts families with two parents in the household just as much as single parents. Having two parents would be wonderful, but it doesn't solve the problem of poverty and limited access to educational opportunties.