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Two young children--a girl and a boy--interact with a middle-aged woman in a classroom.

Early-childhood intervention offers long-term benefits

Study is the first to show that school programs have enduring impact

August 15, 2007

Minority preschoolers from low-income families who participated in a comprehensive school-based intervention fared better educationally, socially, and economically as they moved into young adulthood, according to a report by University of Minnesota professors Arthur Reynolds and Judy Temple. The study was published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association's (JAMA) Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"This study is the first to show that large-scale established programs run by schools can have enduring effects into adulthood on general health and well-being," says Reynolds, a child development professor in the College of Education and Human Development. "Early childhood programs can promote not only educational success but health status and behavior."

Reynolds' research group discovered that by age 24, children who were involved in preschool programs were more likely to finish high school, attend four-year colleges, and have health insurance coverage, and less likely to be arrested for a felony, be incarcerated, or develop depressive symptoms.

"Children who were enrolled in the CPC program were generally more socially engaged and educationally adept," Reynolds added. "These benefits derived from the early impacts of the program on school readiness, achievement, and parental involvement in the children's schooling."

For example, the preschool group had higher rates of high school completion, with 71.4 percent finishing high school compared with 63.7 percent of those in the non-preschool group. Those who attended preschool also were more likely to have health insurance (70.2 percent compared with 61.5 percent of those not in preschool). Children in the program also had lower rates of felony arrests (16.5 percent compared with 21.1 percent) and lower rates of depressive symptoms (12.8 percent versus 17.4 percent).

The study--known as the Chicago Longitudinal Study--began in 1986 to investigate the effects of government-funded kindergarten programs for children in the Chicago Public Schools. Reynolds' group studied the long-term effects of the Child-Parent Center (CPC) in Chicago. A total of 1,539 low-income minority children who were born in 1979 or 1980 and attended programs at 25 sites between 1985 and 1986 were compared with 550 children who participated in alternative full-day kindergarten programs available to low-income families.

The children were tracked through age 24 using various methods, including records from schools and county, state, and federal agencies, as well as a survey completed by the participants between the ages of 22 and 24.

Children who participated in the program during preschool and early school years also were more likely to be working full-time (42.7 percent vs. 36.4 percent), have completed more years of education, have lower rates of arrests for violent offenses (13.9 percent vs. 17.9 percent), and be less likely to receive disability assistance (4.4 percent vs. 7 percent).

The fact that positive results of the program extend beyond educational achievements is not surprising given the links between education, mental and physical health, and behavior, Reynolds and Temple, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics and in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, noted in the study. "Because expenditures for the medical care and justice systems comprise roughly 20 percent of the gross domestic product, the potential cost savings to governments and taxpayers of early childhood prevention programs are considerable."

Reynolds adds that "children who participated in this program had a greater recognition that more and higher-quality schooling is the way out of poverty. {They also] were generally more socially engaged and educationally adept. These benefits derived from the early impacts of the program on school readiness, achievement, and parental involvement in the children's schooling."

To learn more about the Chicago Logitudinal Study, see study.

From University of Minnesota News Service