New study shows long-term benefits of preschool

Jun 9 2011 - 4:06pm

CHICAGO -- A study released Thursday reveals the lasting, long-term impact of a solid preschool education, especially in disadvantaged communities.

While many studies over the years have demonstrated the benefits of starting kids early on the path to education, a study conducted in Chicago and published online by the journal Science shows attending preschool can yield payoffs into adulthood.

The report shows that children who attended an established preschool program in Chicago Public Schools completed high school at higher rates, improved living standards, stayed out of jail and had less likelihood of substance abuse into adulthood.

A group of researchers from the University of Minnesota for 25 years tracked 1,400 Chicago students who attended early childhood programs. They compared those who started preschool at age 3 in Child-Parent Centers, which offer comprehensive services for kids in low-income Chicago neighborhoods through second or third grade, and students who didn't attend preschool at all or went to the typical Head Start program.

Findings showed that students who went to preschool at Child-Parent Centers, Title 1 funded programs that focus on academic achievement and parental involvement, had a 28 percent lower incarceration or jail rate. They also were 28 percent less likely as adults to abuse drugs and alcohol, and they had a 20 percent increase in socioeconomic status. They also were 9 percent more likely to finish high school. That number jumped to 22 percent for males alone.

For kids that stayed in the program until second or third grade, the study showed a 55 percent increase in on-time high school graduation and 36 percent less chance of getting arrested for violence. Many also achieved a better socioeconomic status with higher rate of health coverage.

Michael Washington, one of the study's subjects, had one year of Child-Parent Centers preschool program and then stayed with the program until second grade. He says starting school early drove his love of learning.

"It excited me," he said. "They would give us a little bit of knowledge and made us want to search for more. They didn't just give us a box of crayons to color. They would give us directions on which color to use with which objects. They wanted us to learn how to follow directions."

Arthur Reynolds, the lead researcher and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, said the program also helped Washington stay at the same school till eighth grade, rather than switch schools and disrupt his learning -- a problem in many low-income neighborhoods.

(Chicago Tribune reporter Tara Malone contributed to this report.)

(c) 2011, Chicago Tribune.

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