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Why Effective Early Childhood Education Programs Work

In a 2005 Zogby poll conducted for the Committee for Economic Development: Four out of five American business leaders agreed that investments in effective preschool programs for children are important for the long-term success of the U.S. economy and that access to quality preschool programs has positive implications for the nation’s future workforce. Some 83 percent favor publicly funded pre-kindergarten at the parents’ option.

Oklahoma has more 4-year-olds in preschool than any other state — 70 percent in the state-funded system, and over 90 percent overall.  What’s more, Oklahoma is one of 21 states that require that every preschool teacher have a bachelor's degree and early childhood certification.  Preschool teachers are paid on the same salary schedule as other K-12 teachers.

Nationwide, 20 percent of 4-year-olds are in state-funded preschools. Many Western European countries offer high-quality preschool for all children.

New Mexico's pre-K initiative is paying off for its 4-year-old participants. According to an August 2007 study, children in the program showed vocabulary gains 54 percent higher and math gains 40 percent higher compared to children not in the program.

Art Rolnick, senior vice president and director of research of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says a good preschool can offer a 12 percent annual return, after inflation, better than the stock market, and any other social program.  The Education in the Public Interest Center issued a September 2008 study, Preschool education and its lasting effects: Research and policy implications.  It examines some characteristics of effective early childhood programs:

  • High program standards are important, including having small class sizes and well-educated teachers with adequate pay.
  • Programs should be designed to develop the whole child, including social and emotional development.
  • Policies expanding access to children under 4 should prioritize disadvantaged children who are likely to benefit most.

      A Georgetown University study of the effects of Oklahoma’s pre-K program found that the improved cognitive development was comparable to the best early intervention programs (citing the Abcedarian Project and the Perry Preschool project), and they substantially exceeded those of high-quality child care programs.  

      Only six states have programs that can be described as “universal” — Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

      Economist Robert G. Lynch found that investment in high quality prekindergarten programs generates billions of dollars in economic and other benefits for the federal and state governments. 

      A longitudinal study of participants in a Chicago public schools program serving preK through third grade students reported that at age 24 program participants had acquired more education and were less likely to commit crimes than those who did not receive the same level of service.