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Maximizing Returns from Pre-Kindergarten Education. Conference on Education and Economic Development Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland November 19, 2004 W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. National Institute for Early Education Research (732) 932-4350, . Overview.

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Maximizing Returns from Pre-Kindergarten Education

Conference on Education and Economic Development

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

November 19, 2004

W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D.

National Institute for Early Education Research

(732) 932-4350,

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  • Trends and current landscape

  • Rationale for public investment

  • How to increase efficiency

    Efficiency determined by policies about:

  • Person—Who?

  • Process—How?

  • Context—What else?

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Trends and Current Landscape

  • Preschool education is growing steadily

  • Patchwork of public & private programs

  • Most public programs target the poor

  • Many poor children still not enrolled

  • Enrollment is lowest at moderate income

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Rationale for Public Investment in Pre-K

  • High Rates of Return

  • Large Externalities

  • Imperfect Information

  • Principal-Agent Problem

  • Myopia

  • Individual Risk

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Economic Benefits of Early Education


  • Increased achievement

  • Reduced grade repetition and special education

  • Increased educational attainment

  • Increased employment, productivity, and earnings

  • Less welfare dependency

  • Reduced crime and delinquency

    Some evidence

  • Less abuse and neglect

  • Increased maternal employment and earnings (child care)

  • Decreased health care costs and mortality

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Three Benefit-Cost Analyses

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Perry Preschool: Educational Effects

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Perry: Economic Effects at Age 27

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Perry: Arrests per person by age 27

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Abecedarian Reading Ach. Over Time

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Abecedarian Math Achievement Over Time

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Abecedarian : Academic Benefits

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CPC: Academic and Social Benefits at School Exit

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Economic Returns to Pre-K for Disadvantaged Children

Cost Benefits B/C

Perry Pre-K $16,264 $277,631 17.07

Abecedarian$36,929$139,571 3.78

Chicago$ 7,417$ 52,936 7.14

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Person: Who Should Get Public Pre-K?

  • Targeting is costly and imperfect

    • Head Start misses most poor children

    • About half of Head Start children not poor

  • Benefits do not stop at the poverty line

    • Many nonpoor have similar problems

    • Benefits decrease gradually with income

    • Georgetown study of UPK in OK

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Educational Failure is Common for Middle Class Children

Middle class children have fairly high rates of the problems that Pre-K reduces for poor children.

IncomeRetention Dropout

Lowest 20%17% 23%

20-80% 12% 11%

Highest 20% 8% 3%

Source:US Department of Education, NCES (1997). Dropout rates in the United States: 1995. Figures are multi-year averages.

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Cognitive Readiness Gap

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Social Readiness Gap

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Process: Improving Quality and Outcomes in Pre-K

  • Outcomes of models not fully replicated

  • Teaching is inadequate

  • Teachers poorly qualified, poorly paid

  • Curriculum lacking

  • Class sizes sometimes too large

  • Standards and accountability needed

  • Leadership and supervision required

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Effects of Models v. Large Scale

Models Head Start/

Public School

Special Education19.64.7**

Grade Repetition14.98.4*

**p<.01, two tailed t-test with unequal variances

*p<.05, two-tailed t test with unequal variances

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Preschool Classroom Quality is Too Low




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Teaching Quality in Urban NJ Classrooms (PCI, by Item) 1999

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Children’s Experiences in Three Curricula

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Some Negative Curriculum Effectsthrough Age 23

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Some Positive Curriculum Effects through Age 23

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Process: Research Needs

  • Requires RCT’s

  • Age of start and years

  • Length of day and year

  • Fine tune class size and ratio

  • Fine tune staffing and support

  • Services beyond the classroom

  • Choice and competition

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Context: Changing policy, Changing World

K-12 policies must synchronize

Education is more important

NCLB requires closing the gap

High rates of poverty and low ed. persist

Nation needs higher productivity

Crime has become even more costly

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  • Public Pre-K will and should grow

  • Public Pre-K must be improved

  • Universal programs may be more efficient

  • Quality can and must be raised

  • Balanced curriculum is part of quality

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