Why Preschool Matters


In 2017, NPR reported that “the federal government, along with 42 states and the District of Columbia, spent about $37 billion a year on early childhood programs, mostly targeting low-income 3- to 5-year olds.” But what is the benefit of all of that public money, plus the additional private money that is also spent? For decades, early childhood educators, economists, sociologists have debated preschool’s effects and its necessity.

Studies in the 1960s, like the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, declared that “individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program ultimately earned up to $2,000 more per month than those who were not.” And that they were also more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes and to have longer marriages.

Studies like the Abecedarian Project showed that children in quality preschool were less likely to repeat grades, need special education or to get in trouble with the law later in life. And the Federal Reserve Bank even declared preschool a 12 percent return on investment after inflation, according to the National Education Association. But really, what does a “quality preschool program” and all of this speculation or these studies really mean?

In 2016 and 2017, researchers from Georgetown University, Vanderbilt, Duke, the Brookings Institute and others set to find out, so they combined their efforts to analyze past studies to understand the effects of preschool education on a person’s later life. They published their findings in a report titled “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects.” Some things they found include that not all preschool programs are alike, and the ones that lead to success include “a well implemented, evidence-based curriculum.” That instruction or curriculum should embrace and encourage social and emotional skills, play, toys, games, art , music and movement and include explicit instruction on numeracy and literacy (learning to count and matching letters to sounds and words).

The researchers also found that quality preschool programs do help children gain knowledge across language, reading and math skills, especially in dual-language learners and those from low-income families. (Studies show the gain at either a third of a year to a full year over children who do not attend preschool. All children, from any income level, make these gains, but studies repeatedly have shown larger gains in children who experienced economic scarcity than those in higher income brackets, who may have started with more advanced skills in these areas in the first place.)

Other benefits of preschool include:

  • The learning of  self-monitoring behaviors that carry forward into the creation of a successful adult life.
  • Children grasp the concept of having structure.
  • Children learn social and emotional skills earlier than those kids who wait until kindergarten to start school.
  • Children develop concepts that help them organize their perceptions.
  • Children learn to take care of themselves and others.

And all of these things add up to a child who is better prepared for kindergarten and for future academics, and that is why a quality preschool education is worth the money.