The longest-running study on the benefits of early childhood education just released new findings. Low-income children who participated in the Perry preschool program in the 1960s are not only more successful as adults—their own children benefit as well, suggesting that high-quality preschool can be an effective way to break the cycle of poverty.
The Perry project began tracking the children in the early 1960s. Previously, the research found multiple benefits for participants: increased high school graduation rates, better jobs, and fewer arrests than those who were not enrolled. The new round of data identifies a “spillover effect”: some benefits also extend to the children of the original Perry preschool participants. They “have fewer school suspensions, higher levels of education and employment, and lower levels of participation in crime, compared with the children of untreated participants.” Surprisingly, the siblings of Perry preschool boys also had higher graduation rates and career success, but not if they were born after their families participated in the program.
James J. Heckman, the lead research of the project, explains that Perry preschool adults—now in their 50s—have stronger socio-emotional and self-regulation skills, leading to stable jobs, fewer divorces, and more positive relationships with their children. Combined, these outcomes resulted in “stronger families and significantly contributed to upward mobility in the next generation”—helping to lift future generations out of poverty.
Study after study shows that high-quality preschool yields lifelong benefits, but progress has been frustratingly slow. Less than half of all children are enrolled in preschool programs in the U.S., and for children whose parents don’t have a high school diploma, that number drops to one in four. Meanwhile, the Perry preschool study reveals that the benefits of high-quality early childhood education might, in fact, last for generations.