Recently, I was asked by concerned community members to explain why people keep saying that early childhood education is the answer to issues we are facing. Why did Dr. Robert Putnam cite early childhood as a go-to solution? The proof is nearly a half century in the making. Famous studies from High/Scope Perry Preschool project, Abecedarian Preschool in North Carolina, the Chicago Child Parent Center project were the subject of the Federal Reserve’s report on the return on a preschool investment. What they found was investment in early care and education yields extraordinary public returns.
Beginning before birth until age five, a child experiences tremendous growth and change. This earliest period will see marked progress in cognitive, language, motor and social emotional skills. If their growth is supported and nurtured, the child is more likely to succeed in school and later in life. Conversely, without the support necessary to build the foundation, the child will be more likely to drop out of school, commit a crime, and become dependent on the system for support. It isn’t that people decide in preschool not to do well and become a statistic. It is only by choosing to be born in an under-resourced family that they often set their course for life. High-quality early childhood experiences provide the support and nurturing environments that reinforce a strong foundation.
The Federal Reserve makes the case that the benefits of quality early childhood investments far exceed their costs. They would even go so far as to suggest that the returns on early childhood exceed the return on investment (ROI) on most current economic development projects we have on the books.
The Abecedarian and High/Scope projects have determined the investments returned between $8 and $17 for every dollar spent on the project. Imagine the other less monetary advantages realized by the children (now adults) who were able to participate in the programs.
One final Robert Putnam story—He highlighted a very American solution that came about in the early 1900’s—public high school. Dr. Putnam told the crowd that prior to the early 1900’s most people were lucky to finish the eighth grade, and high schools were for rich families. In response to a growing industrial age that required a more skilled labor force, resourced community leaders were encouraged to fund public high school for all young people who wanted to attend. It began as a Midwestern idea that caught on. Dr. Putnam has hope that our community just might be the one to develop a Midwestern idea that will be a solution for our future.