30-Year Study Shows Long-Term Benefits of Early Learning

It’s a key question for professionals and parents concerned with early childhood learning: Does participating in preschool carry positive, long term benefits?

A new, remarkably long follow-up study of early childhood intervention published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) provides a powerful conclusion: Yes.

The study, “A Multicomponent, Preschool to Third Grade Preventive Intervention and Educational Attainment at 35 Years of Age,” addresses a straight-forward question: Does participation in a large-scale, preschool to third grade intervention for economically disadvantaged children link to midlife educational attainment?”

As the authors note: “Educational attainment is the leading social determinant of health, but few studies of prevention programs have examined whether the programs are associated with educational attainment outcomes after the mid-20s, especially for large-scale programs that provide a longer duration of services.”

The study is fascinating in its long-term interactions with its subjects:

  • “This matched-group, alternative intervention study assessed 1539 low-income minority children born in 1979 or 1980 who grew up in high-poverty neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois.”
  • “The comparison group included 550 children primarily from randomly selected schools participating in the usual early intervention. “
  • “A total of 989 children who entered preschool in 1983 or 1984 and completed kindergarten in 1986 were included in the Chicago Longitudinal Study and were followed up for 27 to 30 years after the end of a multicomponent intervention. “
  • “A total of 1398 participants (90.8%) in the original sample had educational attainment records at 35 years of age. The study was performed from January 1, 2002, through May 31, 2015.”

The findings offer strong encouragement to parents and early learning professionals – and additional data to help drive participation:

  • “4 to 6 years of intervention was significantly associated with a 48% higher rate of degree completion (associate’s degree or higher) compared with lesser participation.”
  • “Preschool participation was independently associated with most attainment outcomes, including years of education, with greater benefits for those whose mothers were high school dropouts.”

The conclusion is clear: “This study indicates that an established early and continuing intervention is associated with higher midlife postsecondary attainment. Replication and extension of findings to other locations and populations should further strengthen confidence in the health benefits of large-scale preventive interventions.”

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