In a groundbreaking paper from Nobel Laureate James Heckman of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Economics of Human Development, we see the advantages of high-quality preschool extended to future generations, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.

Based upon earlier research, most educators and many policymakers understand:

• The negative effects of adverse early childhood environments persist over a lifetime and impacts the children of those affected creating the cycle of poverty.

• These effects raise serious concerns about the life prospects of disadvantaged children and the state of social mobility in America.

• Preschool produces gains in education and in behavior and social skills for disadvantaged children.

• The gains from preschool regarding cognition, as measured by IQ, generally fade out. However, boosts in early life non-IQ skills generate success later in life, improving outcomes in education, employment, health and reduced criminal activity.

Professor Heckman’s groundbreaking paper is titled “Intergenerational and Intragenerational Externalities of the Perry Preschool Project.” It demonstrates that high-quality preschool provides participants’ children with positive second-generation effects on education, health, employment and civic life, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.

The paper also provides evidence that the “disadvantage in early childhood is not just income-based, but also depends on the quality time parents can spend with their children and the parenting resources they can allocate for early development.”

In addition, the paper suggests that intervention at the child’s home beginning shortly after birth would produce even greater gains then waiting until preschool age.

The return on the investment in high-quality preschool for disadvantaged children is 13%, based upon earlier research by Professor Heckman. He points out, “It makes dollars and sense to target disadvantaged children with quality early childhood programs rather than subsidize low quality universal programs.”

This paper is pertinent for Nebraska educators and policymakers.

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