The importance of education, and a pre-K experiment to watch

Two articles recently came to my attention that are of considerable relevance to early childhood education.

First, New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter has an article and interview with economist Thomas Piketty on growing economic inequality. Piketty is the author of a new book on inequality that is getting a lot of attention.

One quotation from Piketty in the interview struck me as particularly relevant to early childhood education, and indeed education in general:

“Historically, the main equalizing force — both between and within countries — has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills.”

I think this summarizes what many economists believe about the role of education. But it is important than one of our leading scholars on economic inequality across the world over the last century agrees with that conclusion.

The policy implication is that if one thinks that inequality is one of the leading social issues of our time, it is imperative to go to great lengths to broaden educational opportunities. Early childhood education is one of the most cost-effective ways to do so, although it should be accompanied by other policies as well.

Second, New York Times reporter Kate Taylor had an article reporting on an experiment testing the “Building Blocks” math curriculum in pre-K. (I thank a tweet from the Human Capital Research Collaborative for drawing this article to my attention.)

One point of note in this article is that this particular curriculum is used in Boston’s pre-K program. As noted in a previous blog post, an article by Weiland and Yoshikawa found extremely high test score effects of Boston’s program. I estimate that this program would increase kindergarten readiness among low-income students sufficiently to increase adult earnings by 15%, which is a huge effect for a one-year program.

An important issue is why Boston’s program is so effective. Perhaps this experiment will tell us whether the math curriculum is key. More time will tell.

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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