New Study by Fellow James Heckman Revisits the Perry Preschool Project
From 1962 to 1967, the Perry Preschool Project provided an experimental high-quality preschool program for disadvantaged African American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The experiment, led by psychologist David Weikart, worked with a sample of 123 low-income children with risk factors of failing in school, including IQ scores between 70 and 85. Of these, 58 were randomly assigned to an enriched preschool environment, while the remaining 65 received no preschool education. The school curriculum emphasized social-emotional skills, active learning, and reflection. The original study found that although there was no change between the program participants and the control group when it came to IQ, there were significant gains for the program group in terms of education performance and socio-emotional effects.
Recently, Academy Fellow and Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman, with co-author Ganesh Karapakula, revisited the participants in the Perry Preschool study, who are now in their mid-50s. Their follow-up study continued to find long-term positive treatment effects on crime, employment, health, cognitive and noncognitive skills, and other outcomes for the Perry participants—especially for males.
More significantly, the children of the original participants were much more likely than those in the comparison group to complete high school without being suspended, to never be addicted to drugs or arrested, and to have full-time jobs or be self-employed, exhibiting the transmission of positive effects across generations. Heckman’s research finds that society receives a strong return on investment for high-quality preschool for at-risk populations, an indication that early childhood education can be an effective tool for combating intergenerational poverty.