Program study confirms early childhood education

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 09, 2001

CHICAGO — A 15-year study of a Head Start-style preschool program for poor children bolsters the idea that early childhood education yields big benefits later in life, reducing crime and dropout rates. 

Children who participated in the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program for one or two years were much less likely to engage in crime as teens or drop out of high school than children who attended full-day kindergarten. 

The federally funded program serves public school children in Chicago’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods for five to six years, starting at age 3.  

The program tries to get parents involved in their youngsters’ education and emphasizes literacy. 

The study found that the preschool years made the most difference in lowering dropout and crime rates 15 years later, said Professor Arthur Reynolds of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the research. 

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The research, along with studies on similar programs, shows that it is feasible to successfully implement such programs on a more widespread basis, said Reid Lyon, chief of child development and behavior at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which helped fund the study. 

Lyon, an adviser to President Bush, said the results will help the administration in its effort to develop an early childhood education initiative. 

The researchers followed 989 children who participated in the Chicago program and 550 children who attended full-day public kindergarten in Chicago. The children were poor, mostly black and born in 1980. 

Nearly half of the children who had one or two years in the preschool program completed high school, compared with about 38 percent of the comparison group – a difference of nearly 30 percent. 

The rate of juvenile arrests was 33 percent lower among children who went through the program, 17 percent versus 25 percent; and 41 percent lower for violent crimes – 9 percent versus 15 percent for the comparison group. 

Rates of children being held back or needing special education were both significantly lower in children who were in the program. They were lowest in youngsters who participated through second or third grade. 

In an accompanying editorial, Edward Zigler and Sally Styfco of Yale University’s psychology department noted that despite the positive findings, children in the program still had relatively high crime and dropout rates. 

They also said the findings show that more time spent in the program leads to better results. 

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