Benefits of early learning programs

Today my boss walked in with a notice from his child’s daycare that fees were going up because the Tories have cancelled the Early Learning and Child Care transfer (and the BC government is not picking up any slack in spite of its multi-billion surpluses) – the fee increase eats up his family’s new “child care allowance” cheque and then some.

This is interesting fodder as yet another study is released on the benefits of early childhood education. From the Vancouver Sun:

Preschool ‘gives kids an edge’

U.S. study finds centre-based care better preparation for kindergarten than at-home parent’s attention

Sarah Schmidt, CanWest News Service






Published: Tuesday, December 05, 2006

OTTAWA — Preschool is better preparation for kindergarten than the attention of a stay-at-home-mom, new research shows.

The national study in the United States found children who attend preschool — centre-based care — enter public schools with higher levels of academic skills than their peers who experienced other types of child care, including stay-at-home parent, relative care and babysitters.

And the preschool advantage in reading and math persists through Grade 3 unless children are placed in small classes and given high levels of reading instruction.

“The key is you really have to look at what happens at home versus what happens at preschool or centre-based care,” lead author Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said in an interview. … “While it’s true parents can give one-on-one attention, they also run errands, talk to their friends, put them in front of the television.”

The study, to be published in the forthcoming edition of Early Childhood Research Quarterly, assessed the skills of a national sample of 7,748 children at school entry in 1998. The researchers then tested their academic progress in math and reading in the spring of Grades 1 and 3.

After controlling for home and family resources, the team found that by the spring of Grade 1, the advantages in kindergarten associated with preschool attendance had largely dissipated for children experiencing class sizes of 20 youngsters or less and enjoying levels of reading instruction in excess of the average of 61 to 90 minutes a day.

“Whether their peers overcome their early deficits, or whether preschool attendees maintain their advantage, is in part a function of the subsequent classroom environment,” concludes the study.

By the spring of Grade 3, the differences associated with preschool attendance had disappeared for those in the more enriched classrooms.

“By contrast, a marked advantage persists among their counterparts in low instruction or large classes,” the study found.

For children who weren’t enrolled in preschool before entering kindergarten and who subsequently attended large classes and received low reading instruction, the skills gap appears to grow, the study found.

“What is particularly interesting, however, is that estimated benefits of preschool appear to increase between spring of the first and third grades, suggesting that the benefits measured in the third grade may persist into subsequent school years and even raising the possibility of ‘sleeper effects’ that increase in size in later grades.”

Geoff Johnson, a retired superintendent of schools, writing in the Vancouver Sun, contrasts this news to the Harper government’s cut-a-cheque program:


Preschool better for kids than giving money to their parents




… Many … studies, both here and in the United States, have been conducted not by early childhood advocates but by right-leaning bastions of pragmatism like the U.S. based Business Roundtable, the Economic Policy Institute and the Rand Corporation. In fact, the bibliography attached to the Business Roundtable report Early Childhood Education: A Call to Action from the Business Community reads like a who’s who of Wall Street.All these reports say essentially the same thing: Well-designed and appropriately designed early childhood intervention programs have been shown to yield benefits in academic achievement, social behaviour, educational progression and attainment, diminished likelihood of delinquency and crime, and labour market success.

The Rand research goes even so far to suggest that “well-designed early childhood intervention programs have been found to generate a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07 for every dollar spent.”

None of these reports advocate the Canadian Conservative government plan of simply handing over a monthly $100 cheque to the parents of preschool children. The same notion of expenditure without accountability, which seems to provide comfort to legislators, would likely create outrage in the boardroom.

Probably the most frequently quoted study of Early Childhood Development Programs is the High/Scope Study of the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich. Beginning in 1962 (this is not new stuff), researchers tracked the performance of children from low-income families who completed the Perry preschool program — daily 2 1/2-hour sessions for three- to four-year-olds and a 1 1/2-hour visit to each mother and child on weekday afternoons — and compared the results to a control group of children who did not participate.

At age 27, 117 of the original 123 subjects were located and interviewed. During elementary and secondary school, Perry School participants were less likely to have been placed in special education classes, had significantly higher achievement scores at age 14 and by age 27 four times as many program participants as non-participants were earning self-sustaining incomes.

The Rand Corporation broadened the scope by studying 19 different early intervention programs, all of which demonstrated “significant and sizable benefits in at least one of the following domains: Cognition and academic achievement, behavioural and emotional competencies, educational progression and attainment, health and labour market success.”

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