Limited Gains found in Chicago Preschool Program

Published July 5, 2011

The long-term social benefits of good preschools for poor children found by a new study of a Chicago pilot program would likely have difficulty scaling up, as have all similar programs.

The academic journal Science followed 957 low-income and at-risk children for 25 years after they participated in an intensive, small-scale program of preschool and family services funded by the federal government. 

In the study, adults who had graduated the program earned an average annual income of $11,600, compared to $10,800 for those in control groups. Five percent more preschool participants graduated high school than among the control group, and college attendance rates for the preschool group were 15 percent, while 11 percent for those not attending preschool. Incarceration rates dropped from 21 percent in the control group to 15 percent for the preschool group.

“Educators have struggled for years to develop early education programs that can change the trajectory of a child’s life. Unfortunately, this study proves again there is no quick fix,” said Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute. 

States’ experiences offering universal or state-funded preschool programs have shown “disappointing” student achievement results, said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. Internal reviews by the Department of Health and Human Services have shown for decades that the nation’s largest preschool program, Head Start, does nothing for student test scores past first grade. 

Image of preschoolers by Gideon Tsang