More than once I have been asked to address how early childhood investment will “pay off” in terms of economic development success. The easy answer is “of course”, but when things cost money, it needs a serious answer. The problem is that the payoff won’t happen in a quarter, or a year, or a legislative budget period.
This month, the place I’ll remember is Ypsilanti, Michigan because the New York Times recently ran an article entitled “The Solution to Poverty? Invest in Kids” by David L. Kirp. (it’s behind a paywall, but reach out to me if you’d like to see it.)
One of Professor Kirp’s points is that there are in fact longitudinal studies that started a long time ago, but are often buried in academia and not familiar to local area policy makers.
He highlighted the Perry Preschool Project from the 1960s in Ypsilanti. The data from that small project was compelling enough that it helped support the creation of the original HeadStart program. Over the years, the original small group of participants have been followed throughout their lives, and there experiences in education, employment, health, finance and other measures have consistently outpaced those the control group that at the time received no such interventions and support. Want to see the data? It’s been widely reported over the years, but here is one source that speaks to the results at age 40: https://highscope.org/perry-preschool-project/.
An exciting new part of the data collection is that it has now become possible to also report on the experience of the children of the original participants as well as the siblings of those original kids who did not themselves get any support, but lived in the same household as the kids that did. Here’s where you can read about that aspect of the research: https://hceconomics.uchicago.edu/news/research-spotlight-lasting-benefits-perry-preschool-participants-siblings-and-children-document
This is the work of generations, so it takes faith, but it’s nice to now that there is some hard evidence too.
So many quotes come to mind:
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you sow” Robert Louis Stevenson
“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” Confucius
So that’s why I’m remember a place this month for something that happened there over 50 years ago.