New Research on the Benefits of Early Childhood Education

With Governor Bullock proposing to invest $12 million on early childhood education, policymakers and parents are wondering how long the benefits of preschool last. A new study of early education programs in North Carolina helps to answer that question. As it turns out – attending a high quality preschool can benefit children not only in the short run, but for years to come.

Kids who attended one of North Carolina’s state supported preschool programs had higher test scores, and were less likely to repeat a grade or to need special education. The study followed one million children from preschool through fifth grade. From 1995-2010, researchers tracked over 15 years of students who attended the preschool program.

By the time the children were in fifth grade, the benefits from attending preschool either remained constant, or even grew. This research shows that the benefits of preschool are long-lasting.

While in the past some critics of publicly funded preschool have suggested that the initial boosts children gain might fade as they enter elementary school, this study suggests that the “fade out” effect is likely due to the quality of the preschool program itself.

High quality preschools, like the program in North Carolina, must meet certain benchmarks, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). These include a low child-staff ratio, teachers and assistants with education and training in early childhood education, and comprehensive early learning standards.

But a high quality preschool education must go beyond the minimum standards, according to early childhood researchers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) emphasizes the need for children to feel secure in their environments, have opportunities to explore and play, programs that promote intellectual, social, and physical development. Quality preschool programs, like the ones Governor Bullock is recommending funds for, can benefit children for years to come.

If Montana chooses to invest in early childhood education, as over 40 other states have already done, we too can provide our children with lifelong benefits. Earlier research on preschool has shown that attendance can lead to higher rates of high school graduation, college completion, and employment, as well as reduced rates of teen pregnancy and the need to use public assistance. Investing in early childhood education can also help strengthen our economy, by enabling parents to work while reducing the cost of childcare, providing jobs for early childhood educators, and helping to prepare our children for the day they will enter the workforce.

Although Governor Bullock’s proposed investment in early childhood education is less than half of what he proposed in the previous biennium due to lower revenue levels, this move to provide high quality opportunities for young children is a step in the right direction. We should not miss this opportunity to support our youngest Montanans.

For additional information on the benefits of early childhood education, be sure to read our reports on the topic. To follow future developments in the move for early childhood education, check back here for more updates.

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