Preschool value over long term

The Education Beat

Study: Benefits claimed for early-childhood programs and the impact on adult lives have been debated for years.

January 16, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

FOR EVERY dollar invested in a quality preschool program, society gets $7.16 in benefits - savings on welfare and special education, savings on crimes that aren't committed, prison sentences never served. Plus the taxes on earnings that flow to local, state and federal governments.

It's one of the most famous findings in education research, one that's been debated for years. David Weikart, the educator and psychologist who conducted the research, was in town yesterday to discuss it with 350 Marylanders who work with young children.

In the early 1960s, Weikart and colleagues in Ypsilanti, Mich., began examining the lives of 123 African-Americans born in poverty and at risk of failure in school. At ages 3 and 4, the children were randomly divided. In the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, one group got a quality preschool program; the other got none.

More than two decades later, when they turned 27, the "subjects" got another close look. Here's what the researchers found:

One-fifth as many adults with preschool experience had been arrested five or more times, and one-third as many had been arrested for drug dealing.

At 27, four times as many of those who attended preschool earned $2,000 or more a month. Proportionately more owned their own homes. Fewer had been on welfare.

Almost a third again as many preschoolers graduated from regular or adult high schools. And early in the study, these kids had higher scores on achievement tests.

The adults with two years of preschool demonstrated more commitment to marriage and had fewer children out of wedlock.

Not surprisingly, the findings of the project have been attacked by those who think federal spending on Head Start and other preschool programs is a waste of taxpayers' money. The project's methodology has been criticized, as has the way Weikart and his colleagues calculated long-range savings.

Weikart retired in 2000, but the High/Scope study continues. He was preaching to the choir yesterday. There was applause when he noted that the 716 percent return on the preschool investment is better than one could have realized on the stock market over the past 23 years.

Weikart did say that the findings "have been used to justify crazy programs," one of which promises that children can begin learning to read at 6 months. He isn't in a hurry to get children reading before they're potty-trained, and he said some preschool programs are damaging to children.

Finland, he said, has one of the world's highest literacy rates, and it delays reading until age 7.

`Star' school could hurt admission to elite colleges

Add this to the debate over high school redistricting in Howard County, in which there's been public friction over which students get to attend the county's high schools with the top reputations: Recent research shows that students from "star" public high schools, those with sterling academic reputations, are at a disadvantage when it comes to gaining admission to elite colleges such as those in the Ivy League.

The reason, according to research by Paul Attewell at the Graduate Center of City University of New York, is that a star school's reputation "becomes tied to the attainments of its academically strongest students, but may be bought at the cost of reduced opportunities for the talented graduates who are below the top."

It's a "winner-take-all market," Attewell says, in which students below the top of their class do less well than would be expected in terms of grades and advanced placement courses.

Moreover, Attewell reports, students from the star schools who are rejected by elite colleges often have higher test scores than students who are admitted to those same institutions from less selective high schools.

In sum, says Attewell in an article in the journal Sociology of Education, "there is an irony. In many cases, the hopes that draw families to enroll their children in star public schools tend to backfire for all but the top-performing students."

Baltimore teacher wins art educator of year award

Beth Miller of Baltimore has been selected National Secondary Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association.

Miller teaches at Roland Park Country School.

Cecil County schools try `Fantastic Fruits' program

Cecil County schools and the State Department of Education are pushing fruit.

Effective today, elementary schools will give away free sliced pears, and fresh and canned fruits will be featured on school menus.

It's part of a "Fantastic Fruits" pilot program that may be expanded elsewhere if Cecil kids bite.

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