This week, as the White House convenes an Early Learning summit, we reflected on how research has informed policy development in this area and the ways in which the HighScope Perry Preschool study and its creator David P. Weikart continue to be important. Dave led this study from its beginning in 1962 until his death on December 9, 2003, 11 years ago this week. The study, which continues today with midlife data now being collected, addressed a simple question: could a well-done preschool program help young children living in difficult circumstances do better in school? Regular waves of data collection over the years have answered a resounding yes. Indeed, the clarity of the affirmation prompted the broadening of the question: could such a program help these children do better beyond school in the rest of their lives? Again, the answer was a resounding yes, manifest in better jobs and economic productivity, prevention of crime, and an extraordinarily strong return on investment. The effects of this preschool program far exceeded original expectations, setting a new standard of expectation for preschool programs that made them the concern not only of parents and teachers, but also of public leaders concerned with educational achievement, crime prevention, and economic productivity.
Dave Weikart’s HighScope Perry Preschool Study inspired similar studies of the Abecedarian child care program, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, and the Nurse-Family Partnership program. Like the HighScope Perry Preschool, all these model programs were found to have long-term effects and strong return on investment. Dave Weikart’s proven idea of well-done preschool programs has inspired a generation of public leaders to embrace preschool education for all children from low-income families as an achievable dream.
When some did not believe in the potential of children of color and children of poverty to achieve educational success, Dave did believe. When some did not believe that preschool education made a difference, Dave did believe. When some today do not believe that well-done preschool programs can become the norm for large public programs like Head Start, Dave would believe they can. He would insist that we stop making the compromises that keep our preschool programs from enabling our children to achieve their full potential. He would encourage us to remake education from the beginning so that teachers and students alike take initiative and assume responsibility for their learning and their lives.
–Larry Schweinhart, Steve Barnett, and John Love