Dave Weikart, the school district’s
director of specialty services, he fought
hard to develop and institute a two-year
program at Perry, dubbed HighScope,
which would provide the neighborhood’s 3- and 4-year-olds with 12 hours
of instruction each week, with a ratio
of one teacher for every six students.
Teachers would also work with mothers
to develop children’s language and cognitive abilities by, for example, moving
from asking factual questions (“What
color is that car?”) to more probing
questions (“How did you do that?”)
(Rothstein, 2004, p. 124).
Despite its seeming promise, the
initial results of the Perry experiment
were disappointing. The IQs of the
children in the program initially shot
up when compared with children in
the control group, but those differences
appeared to fade within a few years
(Schweinhart, 2004). Such fadeout
effects have been common for early
childhood programs. The first large-scale
examination of Head Start, the federally funded early childhood program
created in the late 1960s, concluded
in 1985 that over time the cognitive
and socioemotional gains (as reflected
in the test scores of students who had
attended Head Start programs) were no
higher than those of children who had
not attended the programs. This study
prompted calls for cancellation of Head
Start funding (Olsen, 2001).
For children in the Perry experiment,
however, something unexpected
occurred at age 14. The students’ aca-
demic scores rebounded, and more of
them went on to graduate from high
school than did students in the control
group ( 65 percent versus 45 percent)
(Schweinhart, 2004). By tracking all 58
students enrolled in the Perry/HighScope
program and a group of 63 students
who did not participate in the program,
researchers were also able to establish
that as adults, HighScope children were
14 percent more likely to be employed;
were 20 percent more likely to earn
more than $20,000 per year ( 60 percent
versus 40 percent); and were also half
as likely to be arrested, have children
out of wedlock, or receive welfare or
government support. Perhaps most
striking, the researchers determined that
40 years later, the $15,166 initial per-
pupil investment had returned $244,812
per individual student (or $16.14 for
every dollar invested) in increased
individual income and reduced outlays
for such publicly funded programs as
special education, welfare, and incar-
ceration (Schweinhart, 2004).
Much Can Be Done
Charles Beatty, who passed away in
1998, never saw these 40-year results.
Yet his courage and vision should
inspire leaders today, many of whom
are no doubt facing difficult budget
decisions. Although it might be easy to
view early childhood programs as sup-
plemental and to strike them from
budgets, the HighScope study shows
that well-designed and implemented
early childhood interventions, especially
those that develop self-regulation, may
well be among the best investments we
can make. EL
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