Early Lessons

by Harry on April 30, 2010

Thanks partly to James Heckman’s work there is suddenly a great deal of interest in High/Scope Perry PreSchool in Ypsilanti. Perry Preschool was an intervention with an experimental design, study of which is continuing, nearly 50 years after it started. The results are remarkable. The children involved were mainly African-American, and all poor, all with low IQs, and the initial idea was that the right kind of early education would raise their IQs and, indeed, they gained an average 15 IQ points. But the gains faded, rapidly, which is a common story. However, later follow ups have continued to show that the kids who went to the preschool have done much better than the control children with respect to various bad outcomes — they have higher incomes, higher graduation rates, lower levels of involvement with the criminal justice system, etc. (The findings have recently been replicated for Head Start by David Deming (pdf)).

Emily Hanford has made a remarkable radio show about it, with American Radio Works. Full website here. Listen here. Transcript here. It’s radio at its best — she has interviewed some of the original teachers, describes the social science clearly but meticulously, and interviewed Heckman on what the implications are. A great resource — I’d recommend using it with college students, and even with high schoolers (not, perhaps, with pre-schoolers, though maybe I should give that a try).

And it’s well worth reading Hanford’s account of why, in the end, she chose not to seek out the subjects of the study.

{ 1 comment }


JB 04.30.10 at 11:24 pm

I trust Heckman to do good research. That’s not all there is to say about high quality pre-school, thought. It would be good if someone did some programming that combined the conversational/hands-on activities described above, with a dose of Direct Instruction, which has been shown to have lasting effects on low-income children’s cognitive abilities (not sure if those were measured thru IQ tests or what).
The Perry Pre-school approach certainly shows up as better than nothing, but I’m not overwhelmed by the magnitude of its lasting effects.

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