Given the many problems with our K-12 educational system, what’s the point of adding early childhood programs?

I’m continuing my series of brief responses to questions I have received at public presentations on early childhood programs.

Today’s question: “Given the many problems with our K-12 educational system, what’s the point of adding early childhood programs? Shouldn’t our first priority be to fix the K-12 system before trying to add on to it?”

High-quality early childhood programs can work even if the K-12 system faces challenges. For example, evaluations indicate that a Chicago preschool program, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program,  had strong effects on increasing high school graduation rates and adult earnings for children who later attended Chicago Public Schools.

Investing in early childhood programs can help improve the K-12 system. For example, if more children are in high-quality preschool, then K-12 teachers can up the level of what they teach and also will have fewer behavioral problems.

It is also true that if the K-12 system is better,  the benefits of early childhood programs preschool programs can be added to by better learning during the K-12 years. But the proper conclusion from this is that we need to both invest in expanded coverage and quality of early childhood programs, and invest in higher-quality K-12.  Although separate investments in either the early childhood system or the K-12 system can pay off, investing in both systems simultaneously has synergistic benefits for better adult outcomes for our children.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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