Research consensus for early childhood education backed in letter by over 500 researchers

A letter was released today (November 12, 2014), signed by over 500 researchers and academics, that expresses the strong research consensus that supports investment in high-quality early childhood education.

I am honored to be among this group of signatories, which includes many well-known researchers. The letter can be found at the NIEER website.  Here is the full list of the over 500 signatories.

The letter reflects the broad range of research consensus that backs the effectiveness of early childhood education. As the letter says, research shows that quality early childhood education not only improves academic achievement outcomes, but also improves future adult outcomes, for example by increasing earnings and reducing crime. Early childhood education programs can be and have been successfully run at a large scale. And these programs not only help low-income children, but also can improve outcomes for working-class and middle-class children.

For those who want more information and evidence, the letter draws in part on a longer report from 2013, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education . Another recent report (January 2014)  that helps summarize the research is from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy: Early Childhood Education for Low-Income Students: A Review of the Evidence and Benefit-Cost Analysis.

In addition, my new book (September 2014), From Preschool to Prosperity: The Economic Payoff to Early Childhood Education, also provides a summary of the research evidence in an accessible book that is meant to be readable in less than two hours. The book is available free as a pdf at the Upjohn Institute, at $0.99 on Kindle or Nook, and is also available as a paperback at Amazon or at the Upjohn Institute.  In Kalamazoo, the book can be purchased at Bookbug or at Kazoo Books. Gordon Evans of WMUK, the local public radio station, broadcast an interview with me about the book on November 10. Alyssa Haywoode of Eye on Early Education published an interview with me about the book on September 23. Finally, Conor Williams of the New America Foundation reviewed the book.

If you want to hear what the critics of this research say, this recent blog post provides a somewhat more technical discussion that  contrasts my view of the research evidence versus the views of Russ Whitehurst, one of the prominent critics of the research evidence for early childhood education. But, as the letter released today shows, the consensus is that the weight of the evidence supports greater evidence in high-quality early childhood education. Critics are forced to overlook a great deal of good evidence for the effectiveness of these programs, and over-stress a few flawed studies to the contrary. As the letter released today states:

Critics of greater investment ignore the full body of evidence. Critics often cite data out of context, cherry-picking findings that highlight minimal effects within the larger findings of overall benefits. In addition, they claim the need to wait for larger-scale studies over many years to prove long-term effectiveness, knowing full well that such experiments are not possible without significant government investment and decades of research. Existing research findings are sufficient to warrant greater investment in quality programs now. Additional investments in research are essential and will be most productive if used to monitor quality and guide ongoing improvement of programs and systems.”

The press release is below:

Press release from First Five Years Fund and National Institute for Early Education Research, released November 12, 2014:

Open Letter from Academics, Researchers: Increase Investments in High-Quality Early Childhood Education

Jeffrey Sachs, Linda Darling-Hammond, Susan Neuman, W. Steven Barnett among signatories to endorse state and federal investments in birth to five initiatives

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of more than 500 researchers and academics from around the country released an open letter today urging policymakers on all levels of government to support greater investments in high-quality early childhood education. The letter, released in conjunction with the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), includes signatories such as Jeffrey Sachs, Linda Darling-Hammond, T. Berry Brazelton, Barbara Bowman, David Kirp and Steven Barnett.

The letter crystallizes an overwhelming body of research in human development, psychology, education, and economics, which details how high-quality early childhood education programs for children from birth to age five are one of the best economic bets we can make. Research shows that investing in these early years, particularly on behalf of disadvantaged children, produces impressive social and economic returns. Some of our country’s costliest fiscal challenges – grade repetition, special education, high school dropout, crime, and health costs – all are shown to be impacted significantly by evidence-based investments in early education. Quality early education can be brought to scale, with examples available across the country.

Within the past year, states as diverse as Alabama, Maine, Michigan, New York and Washington have made early childhood education a political priority. Governors, mayors, CEOs and law enforcement officials are coalescing around early childhood education as a trusted path to improving education, family, and economic outcomes. But this isn’t an excuse for the federal government to sit on the sidelines. Federal investment is vital to help ensure childcare, home visiting, Head Start and other programs have the necessary resources to provide high quality services consistent with the science of early learning.

“Too many American children do not receive the education and support in their first five years that science tells us contributes to life success,” said W. Steven Barnett, Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). State funding for pre-k increased by $30.6 million in 2012-2013—a step in the right direction, but a small one, according to NIEER’s 2013 State Preschool Yearbook. “Policymakers across the political spectrum have put their support behind early education programs, so it’s time to see funding increases that reflect that support,” according to Barnett.

Fortunately, momentum is building. This year alone, Congress launched a $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition which has generated interest from 35 states, extended the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, and allocated $1.4 billion in early childhood education funding.

A recent national poll by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research for the First Five Years Fund confirms that voters also view greater investment in early childhood education as a critical issue for states and the nation. Seventy-one percent of voters support greater federal investments and 64 percent say our political leaders should be doing more to ensure that children start kindergarten with the knowledge and skills to do their best.

“Today’s letter reinforces the broad base of consensus in the academic and research community behind early childhood education as a tangible tool to solving a number of social and economic problems,” said Barnett. “This is one of the soundest choices policy leaders can make.”

Among the signatories of the open letter are:
 Jeffrey Sachs, Earth Institute, Columbia University
 Linda Darling-Hammond, Graduate School of Education, Stanford University
 Barbara Bowman, Erikson Institute
 David Kirp, Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley
 Irwin Redlener, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University
 Jack P. Shonkoff, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
 Timothy Bartik, Senior Economist, Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
 Deborah Phillips, Department of Psychology, Georgetown University
 W. Steven Barnett, National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers
 Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University
The First Five Years Fund ( helps America achieve better results in education, health and economic productivity through investments in quality early childhood education programs for disadvantaged children. FFYF provides knowledge, data, and advocacy – persuading federal policymakers to make investments in the first five years of a child’s life that create greater returns for all.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (, a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research.

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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