New York City's Mayor Bill De Blasio recently made a very exciting announcement about early childhood – by around 2021, all three-year-olds in New York City will be eligible for free preschool. De Blasio rightly called this investment “one of the smartest we’ve ever made in the history of this city.” We don’t need another study reminding us that early intervention has an unbelievably high return on investment, both financially and with regard to student achievement. A few other cities in the country have already begun offering this service to families, but NYC will be the biggest district to do so.
To figure out why educating kids beginning at age three is so important, we just need to look at the amazing work done by The Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC), a controlled study carried out in the 1970’s. Plenty of wraparound early intervention services continue to exist in a number of states, but there is very little research on the long-term effects of these services, and whether they are financially reasonable undertakings. A study published after a 30-year follow-up assessment of the children in the ABC project adds to the overwhelming evidence that success as an adult starts with high-quality care that begins at birth.
The children in the study received high-quality care all day starting at eight weeks old. Their mothers increased their earning power by receiving subsidized care, so they could invest more in their careers. The children were immersed in language and interactive play with trained educators. Parents also received tips and parenting instruction, while all the children had access to quality health care. The young children came out of the program with early literacy skills, self-control and self-regulatory skills, higher engagement with the environment, and a solid foundation for kindergarten.
After decades of follow-up, researchers believe that the financial return on investment is about 13%. That’s quite a bit higher than your typical investment in the stock market. The societal benefits top even that high number, with reduced crime, better health, lower drug use, lower blood pressure, more years of education, and larger contributions to the economy. Since the children had subsidized care, parents were able to go to work full time and experience true upward mobility. They found positive effects in maternal education, labor force participation, and parental income. However, the researchers specifically note that these effects are due to the high quality of the wraparound care provided, and that low quality childcare is likely to take a steep toll on children’s and families’ well-being.
Finding high-quality affordable childcare in New York City is, some would say, an impossible feat. We’re looking forward to seeing how the 3K For All plan unfolds over the next few years, and what effect is has on children and their families.