Small investment in children’s education yields big results

NIH-funded research shows educating children leads to adult income gains

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Arthur Reynolds, Professor, Institute of Child Development and Co-Director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs and College of Education and Human Development.

Barrett Whitener: Our guest today has shown over and over again that a comparatively small investment in children can have a substantial payoff when those children reach adulthood. Children from poor Chicago neighborhoods who graduated from an early childhood education program did far better than peers the same age who did not attend the program. Among the benefits were higher educational attainment, lower rates of serious crime and incarceration, and lower rates of depression. A cost-benefit analysis showed that for every dollar spent on the program, $4 to $11 of economic benefits were seen over a child’s lifetime.

From the National Institutes of Health, I’m Barrett Whitener. This is Research Developments, a podcast from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development—the NICHD.

Joining me today is Arthur Reynolds, director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Dr. Reynolds is the director of the Chicago Longitudinal Study, which periodically checks in with 1,500 children who attended early childhood programs in poor areas in Chicago. The project is now in its 26th year.

Dr. Reynolds and his colleagues have analyzed data from children who attended the Midwest Child-Parent Centers in the Chicago Public School District. Most recently, another of Dr. Reynolds’ studies showed that poor children who participated in full-day preschool had stronger math and reading skills and were better prepared to start kindergarten than those in part-day programs. For these impoverished families, full-day preschool also benefited parents by freeing their time to pursue their own careers or education.

The CPC program provides children of low income families with intensive instruction in reading and math from pre-kindergarten through third grade. The children also attend frequent educational field trips. Their parents are provided with training in job skills and parenting skills and are encouraged to volunteer in their children’s classrooms and to help supervise field trips.

Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Reynolds.

Arthur Reynolds: Thank you very much. Great to be here.

Mr. Whitener: Much of your funding for this research, especially in the beginning, was provided by the NICHD. And your most recent work, which we’ll talk about, too, had some funding from the NICHD, but was largely supported by the Department of Education.

So let’s start with your earlier studies. You published one in 2007 and an update in 2011 on the long-term benefits for the graduates of the Midwest Child-Parent Centers when they reached adulthood. Could you tell us briefly about how long you followed the children and what kind of benefits you saw for the program graduates compared to the non-graduates?

Dr. Reynolds: Yes. So this is a cohort—the children were born in 1980, and so we have followed them up to the age of 28. And one of the consistent findings that we’ve had, and it also showed up in these analyses reported in 2007 and 2011, also in the cost-benefit analysis, that preschool graduates and graduates of the Child-Parent Center program, from preschool to third grade, had significantly higher levels of educational attainment compared to kids in the more traditional programs without the intervention, and that those changes in educational attainment also had impacts on the reduction in need for school remedial services such as grade retention and special education, but also significantly lower rates of crime, including felony arrests in adulthood—this is up to the age of 28—and also lower rates of child abuse and neglect by the end of adolescence.

Mr. Whitener: What did you find specifically about the benefits later in life for the children who graduated from the program?

Dr. Reynolds: We also saw impacts on health and well-being in terms of lower rates. CPC graduates had significantly lower rates of substance abuse, higher rates of health insurance coverage, and also greater economic well-being in terms of being placed in jobs with higher skills that earned more in terms of income. And then these broader effects, looking at health and well-being, were really a generalization of the impacts that we saw in education.

So we see that these early influences, the early investments in preschool and if those investments continue into the early grades, that then we see these long-term benefits on health and well-being—not just education or health, but also the social benefits in terms of reduced crime and child abuse and neglect.

And we’ve also looked at some family impacts as well, and we do find that participants also had greater levels of parent involvement in education, in their lives, and that those benefits that we saw certainly were a mechanism or a reason why we found these long-term benefits like child abuse and neglect and also in crime prevention.

Mr. Whitener: You mentioned earlier that you had added some features to the CPC standard features. Could you describe a little bit more about what those features consisted of?

Dr. Reynolds: Yes, yes. And so one of the things that we changed is that the program, in the Midwest CPC program, we made the opportunity for children to participate in a full-day preschool program, not just a part-day program. The earlier study is based all on, really, a 3-hour part-day pre-K program at age 3 and 4. So the option here, certainly in Chicago, which is one of the major, the largest district implementing the Midwest CPC, there was an option to participate in a full 7-hour-per-day pre-K program at age 3 or 4. And so that was one change.

Another change was that we sort of expanded the outreach opportunities. There was a heavy emphasis on parent involvement. The teams that worked on parent involvement really were working maybe 20 to 30 hours per week. So we increased sort of the outreach time to do more home visits and more sort of resource mobilization to families. And so the parent involvement system was more enhanced, because there was more time to do home visits and also more outreach that was available.

Another feature was that we added an online professional development system, and so that there was coaching support to teachers in implementing the curriculum and instructional strategies—both in terms of online module support, but also in coaching and facilitation and supporting teachers and using best practices in the classroom. And we did a lot of that work in collaboration with the Erikson Institute in Chicago. We turned to a whole new professional development system.

And another feature certainly aligned the curriculum that each school had to design sort of a curriculum/instructional alignment plan and also to develop a menu-based system of parent involvement that would be endorsed by the principal. And so in terms of leadership—and so in a sense, we converted the CPC program into a school reform model, where previously, I think it was more seen as kind of an add-on or an extension of what was going on.

Mr. Whitener: Why did the full-day preschool seem like something to explore? Was it as simple as, if part-day preschool has benefits, then more of it would have more benefits?

Dr. Reynolds: That’s right. You have the learning time. When you increase learning time, I think in the last 20 years there’s been a lot of research on [how] just increasing learning time, increasing instructional time has been associated with gains in learning, especially for lower-income kids, kids that have more risk factors. And it can be sort of a mechanism to reduce the achievement gap. And so I think that’s just a function of a lot of the research. If you extend the day or provide services like full-day services, you are extending the learning time.

What we found was there’s a couple of factors here. Obviously, if you just increase learning time in an average program or program that’s not high in quality, you’re not going to get the benefits. But in the CPC program, it already has been shown to be a high-quality program. It’s a very high-quality program that has small classes, as I say, a lot of support for teachers and instruction and leadership. It ensures best practices.

And strong coordination is occurring that—and what we found was that when we doubled the instructional time—it’s even beyond that, because we’re going from a 3-hour-a-day program to a 7-hour-a-day program. And what we found was that when you’re doubling that instruction time, you find parallel increases in school readiness skills. And what we found was large changes in not only literacy and math skills, which may be expected, but also found parallel changes in social-emotional well-being in terms of rule-following and peer relationships in the classroom, sort of children’s self-control and emotional control, that those changes were also indicated.

And further, we found that because one of the reasons that we did a full-day program was because a lot of the families in these Child-Parent Centers in this day and age, they were looking for a full-day program. And as a consequence of that, because of the greater commitment that the schools showed by increasing full-day programs, what we found was significant improvements in attendance.

If families enrolled their child in a full-day program where they could have confidence and know that the child’s needs are going to be well addressed throughout the whole day, that gave them a lot of confidence, and it had the effect of increasing attendance and reducing chronic absences. In fact, what we found was about a 45 percent reduction in the rate of chronic absences associated with full-day preschool in the 11 schools that implemented full-day preschool in the Chicago Public Schools.

These are the findings that were reported in JAMA just recently around Thanksgiving, around the end of November, and really show that these carryover effects as well really being a function of the fact that it’s a high-quality program. But certainly there was a greater parent investment and greater child investment because parents saw the gains—the learning and nurturing, just the fun kinds of learning activities that were occurring, and they wanted to make sure their children were there every day to get the benefits of that experience.

Mr. Whitener: These results are so impressive that it makes me wonder and want to ask, is there an expansion of preschool into full-day preschool happening now in the country?

Dr. Reynolds: Yes, well, there has been an expansion in districts. I know maybe, if you look at 4-year-olds mainly, it may be only about 20 percent to 30 percent of 4-year-olds in public preschool programs, like state pre-K programs, would have full-day coverage. It’s still a small percentage, but I think there’s been gains; there’s been increases over the last decade.

What our findings, I think, show was that there needs to be further acceleration in opportunity for families that are interested and that want their children in a full-day program, that that should be available, especially for those that have higher risk factors—those families who can’t afford private preschool, can’t afford the $15,000 per year or more for a full-day program, that it should be made publicly available.

But I think what we found is that there were new classrooms that were opened up in St. Paul as a function of our findings, that brought full-day preschool to the St. Paul Public Schools. And we see that other districts that we’re working with, both Normal and Evanston, are also interested in that.

And I would say generally there’s been other efforts as well. For example, the City of Chicago has just made an increased investment to open up classrooms for, over the next 4 years, to about 3,000 children to participate in the Child-Parent Center program, using many of those slots being full-day slots.

The last thing I would say is that the Obama Administration has just awarded funding of over $250 million to states to scale up their preschool programs for 4-year-olds. And all of the funding for the programs must be to pay for full-day preschool. And so I think the benefits, the consequences of our findings, I think, are being seen in these efforts that I mentioned.

And in fact, the economic analysis of the preschools for all grants and other grants that were awarded—there was a report done by the Council of Economic Advisors in the Obama Administration—and that this JAMA study, our study in the CPC program, was one of the studies cited for scale-up potential in expanding the benefits of full-day preschool. So I think our study is probably one of the most foremost to show the potential benefits on school readiness skills and attendance of full-day preschool that really hadn’t been shown before.

Mr. Whitener: For parents who are excited about your findings and about the idea of a full-day preschool but who don’t have access to that, at this point, are there any steps you suggest they take?

Dr. Reynolds: Yes, I think what we found was that advocacy at the school level, and certainly letting their teachers, children’s teachers, schools, communities, their representative, their political representatives to be aware that their needs to be options for families to enroll their children in full-day programs, to be provided publicly through their public school or through Head Start programs or other community-based providers as well.

Families really need to look carefully at what the options are in their communities and where they want their children to be attending programs, but also to ensure that, and make their views known, that school districts and schools should provide this option and that, of course, it’s an option, so it’s not a requirement. But again, there are families that still would prefer their children to be in a part-day program, and that’s fine. What we’ve shown in our studies is you can get very big benefits in a part-day program.

But for parents that want a full-day experience and not have the challenges of transportation and the sort of the discontinuity that might occur during the school day, that option should be available. And I think it’s both sort of looking for that option, but also advocating for that option and making sure that it is available in the service systems that parents are working in.

Mr. Whitener: What happens next for your research? Where do you go next?

Dr. Reynolds: Our next phase is really to be able to track the progress of children that participate in the Midwest CPC expansion to see what the gains are, not just in school entrance, but really over time, that our children’s, is their well-being promoted in the same way that we found in the earlier
Longitudinal Study?

And that when you add in additional services, if you add in kindergarten services and aligning curriculum and providing sort of a menu-based parent involvement in supporting teachers all the way through third grade, do you get a synergy of benefits? So the effects that we see early on are snowballing and getting larger and larger as kids continue into the program and then we follow their progress.

Mr. Whitener: Well, thanks very much for speaking with me today about your research, Dr. Reynolds.

Dr. Reynolds: Thank you very much. Enjoyed it.

Mr. Whitener: I’ve been speaking with Dr. Arthur Reynolds, lead author of the study, “Association of Full-Day versus Part-Day Preschool Intervention with School Readiness, Attendance, and Parent Involvement.” The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute's website at

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