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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Early Childhood

November 2021


What research resources are available on the long term outcomes of high quality early childhood education programs for children from low-income families?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, literature reviews, and descriptive studies on the long term outcomes of high quality early childhood education programs for children from low-income families. We focused on identifying resources with outcomes beyond K-12 education and into adulthood. For details on the databases and sources, key words, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Belfield, C. R., Nores, M., Barnett, S., & Schweinhart, L. (2006). The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program: Cost–benefit analysis using data from the age-40 followup. Journal of Human Resources, 41(1), 162–190.

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper presents an updated cost-benefit analysis of the High/Scope Perry preschool Program, using data on individuals aged 40. Children were randomly assigned to a treatment or control group. Program costs are compared against treatment impacts on educational resources, earnings, criminal activity, and welfare receipt. Net present values are calculated for participants, the general public, and society. The treatment group obtains significantly higher earnings. For the general public, higher tax revenues, lower criminal justice system expenditures, and lower welfare payments easily outweigh program costs; they repay $12.90 for every $1 invested. However, program gains come mainly from reduced crime by males.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Campbell, F. A., Pungello, E. P., Burchinal, M., Kainz, K., Pan, Y., Wasik, B. H., Barbarin, O. A., Sparling, J. J., & Ramey, C. T. (2012). Adult outcomes as a function of an early childhood educational program: An Abecedarian Project follow-up. Developmental Psychology, 48(4), 1033. Full-text available from

From the ERIC abstract: “Adult (age 30) educational, economic, and social-emotional adjustment outcomes were investigated for participants in the Abecedarian Project, a randomized controlled trial of early childhood education for children from low-income families. Of the original 111 infants enrolled (98% African American), 101 took part in the age 30 follow-up. Primary indicators of educational level, economic status, and social adjustment were examined as a function of early childhood treatment. Treated individuals attained significantly more years of education, but income-to-needs ratios and criminal involvement did not vary significantly as a function of early treatment. A number of other indicators were described for each domain. Overall, the findings provide strong evidence for educational benefits, mixed evidence for economic benefits, and little evidence for treatment-related social adjustment outcomes. Implications for public policy are discussed.”

Heckman, J. J., & Karapakula, G. (2019). Intergenerational and intragenerational externalities of the Perry Preschool Project (Working Paper W25889). National Bureau of Economic Research.

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper examines the impact of the iconic Perry Preschool Project on the children and siblings of the original participants. The children of treated participants have fewer school suspensions, higher levels of education and employment, and lower levels of participation in crime, compared with the children of untreated participants. Impacts are especially pronounced for the children of male participants. These treatment effects are associated with improved childhood home environments. The intergenerational effects arise despite the fact that families of treated subjects live in similar or worse neighborhoods than the control families. We also find substantial positive effects of the Perry program on the siblings of participants who did not directly participate in the program, especially for male siblings.”

Heckman, J. J., & Karapakula, G. (2019). The Perry Preschoolers at late midlife: A study in design-specific inference (Working Paper W25888). National Bureau of Economic Research.

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper presents the first analysis of the life course outcomes through late midlife (around age 55) for the participants of the iconic Perry Preschool Project, an experimental high-quality preschool program for disadvantaged African-American children in the 1960s. We discuss the design of the experiment, compromises in and adjustments to the randomization protocol, and the extent of knowledge about departures from the initial random assignment. We account for these factors in developing conservative small-sample hypothesis tests that use approximate worst-case (least favorable) randomization null distributions. We examine how our new methods compare with standard inferential methods, which ignore essential features of the experimental setup. Widely used procedures produce misleading inferences about treatment effects. Our design-specific inferential approach can be applied to analyze a variety of compromised social and economic experiments, including those using re-randomization designs. Despite the conservative nature of our statistical tests, we find long-term treatment effects on crime, employment, health, cognitive and non-cognitive skills, and other outcomes of the Perry participants. Treatment effects are especially strong for males. Improvements in childhood home environments and parental attachment appear to be an important source of the long-term benefits of the program.”

Hite, J. (2014). Early learning: Return on investment. Annotated bibliography. Southern Regional Education Board. Full text available from

From the Southern Regional Education Board website: “Findings in these studies identify specific elements in pre-K programs that are most beneficial. Evidence from state programs in Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia is also instructive. Studies provide a sampling of research on policy topics with nationwide applicability.

  • Cost-benefit and effect size analyses of pre-K programs
  • Catch up vs. fade out: Do pre-K’s positive effects persist through K-12?
  • Evaluations of pre-K programs in SREB states”

Lamy, C. E. (2013). How preschool fights poverty. Educational Leadership, 70(8), 32–36.

From the ERIC abstract: “It’s no mystery why children from low-income families often arrive at the kindergarten door lagging substantially behind their wealthier peers in foundational vocabulary, literacy, math, and social skills. These children, writes Cynthia Lamy are less likely to have the early educational supports their wealthier peers receive. They are less likely to spend their days in playful conversational banter with an adult who has the time and patience to answer their incessant questions, helping them build their vocabularies and their general stores of knowledge. This is where preschool comes in. A solid body of research now shows that preschool can provide an enormous early boost that can change the academic trajectory of a child forever. But there’s an important caveat, says Lamy--to have this impact and fight poverty, the preschool must be of high quality, like the Perry Preschool program, the Abecedarian study, and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers study. Lamy describes research documenting the strong, long-term effects of these three programs. She also reviews the research on several state-level preschool programs--which strive for high quality but often hit the mid-quality range—and Head Start programs, which struggle with funding and are known to be of inconsistent quality. The comparison of results clearly shows that quality matters—and that striving to provide a high-quality preschool experience for low-income children is a worthwhile goal.”

Ou, S.-R., & Reynolds, A. J. (2014). Early determinants of postsecondary education participation and degree attainment: Findings from an inner-city minority cohort. Education and Urban Society, 46(4), 474–504. Full text available from

From the ERIC abstract: “Early determinants of college attendance and degree attainment for economically disadvantaged minority youth were examined in the present study. The study sample (n = 1,379) was drawn from the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS), an ongoing investigation of a panel of low-income minority children born in 1980, growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods in Chicago. Regression findings indicated that three factors in elementary grades can potentially improve both college attendance and bachelor’s (BA) degree completion for economically disadvantaged minority students: better classroom adjustment, high parent expectation in child’s education, and better academic performance. Findings have implications for schools, educators, and policy makers.”

Reynolds, A. J., & Temple, J. A. (2008). Cost-effective early childhood development programs from preschool to third grade. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 4, 109–139.

From the abstract: “Although findings on the positive effects of early childhood development programs have been widely disseminated, less attention has been given to program impacts across the entire period of early childhood. This review summarizes evidence on the effects and cost-effectiveness of programs and services from ages 3 to 9. The major focus is preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten, school-age programs including reduced class sizes, and preschool-to-third-grade interventions. Participation in preschool programs was found to have relatively large and enduring effects on school achievement and child well-being. High-quality programs for children at risk produce strong economic returns ranging from about $4 per dollar invested to over $10 per dollar invested. Relative to half-day kindergarten, the positive effects of full-day kindergarten have been found to be relatively small and generally do not last for more than a year. Although no formal economic analyses have been conducted, the economic return per dollar invested would be expected to be close to zero. Among early-school-age programs, preschool plus school-age interventions (PK-3) for children at risk are linked to higher levels of school performance into adolescence. The Child-Parent Center PK-3 Program shows a return of $6 to $9 per dollar invested. Class-size reductions show evidence of positive effects, with economic returns of roughly $3 per dollar invested. The causal mechanisms of long-term effects are discussed. Key principles to promote intervention effectiveness are offered.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Reynolds, A. J., Temple, J. A., White, B. A., Ou, S.-R., & Robertson, D. L. (2011). Age 26 cost-benefit analysis of the Child-Parent Center early education program. Child Development, 82(1), 379–404. Full text available from

From the abstract: “We conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the Child-Parent Center (CPC) early childhood intervention. Using data collected up to age 26 on health and well-being, the study is the first adult economic analysis of a sustained large-scale and publicly-funded intervention. As part of the Chicago Longitudinal Study, a complete cohort of 900 low-income children who enrolled in 20 CPCs beginning at age 3 were compared to 500 well-matched low-income children who participated in the usual educational interventions for the economically disadvantaged in Chicago schools. School-age services were provided up to age 9 (third grade). Findings indicated that the three components of CPC had economic benefits in 2007 dollars that exceeded costs. The preschool program provided a total return to society of $10.83 per dollar invested (net benefits per participant of $83,708). Benefits to the public (other than program participants and families) were $7.20 per dollar invested. The primary sources of benefits were increased earnings and tax revenues, averted criminal justice system and victim costs, and savings for child welfare, special education, and grade retention. The school-age program had a societal return of $3.97 per dollar invested and a $2.11 public return. The extended intervention program (4 to 6 years of participation) had a societal return of $8.24 and public return of $5.21. Estimates were robust across a wide range of discount rates and alternative assumptions, and were consistent with the results of Monte Carlo simulations. Males, 1-year preschool participants, and children from higher risk families had greater economic benefits. Findings provide strong evidence that sustained early childhood programs can contribute to well-being for individuals and society.”

Sparling, J., & Meunier, K. (2019). Abecedarian: An early childhood education approach that has a rich history and a vibrant present. International Journal of Early Childhood, 51(2), 207–216.

From the ERIC abstract: “The Abecedarian Approach was created in the early 1970s to serve as the ‘educational treatment’ in the Abecedarian Project, a rigorous randomized controlled trial for children of disadvantaged families. The elements of the Abecedarian Approach are Language Priority, Enriched Caregiving, Conversational Reading, and LearningGames®. The Approach spans from birth to school entry and can be delivered through group child care, family child care, playgroups, and home visits. Preschool research findings showed positive effects on cognition as early as 18 months of age. School research showed improvement in reading and math achievement that persisted throughout the entire period of school enrollment. Long-term benefits for this disadvantaged sample included a fourfold improvement in their rate of university graduation. Adult-age follow-up disclosed unexpected benefits in life course variables including better health, more equitable social decision making, and reduced criminal behavior. Research on this classic early childhood approach is continuing today, and the results of two of those contemporary studies are reported in this issue of ‘International Journal of Early Childhood.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Early childhood education”

  • Abecedarian

  • “Perry Preschool”

  • “Reynolds, Arthur J.”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.