Posts Tagged ‘Early childhood intervention’

Improving education: What really works?

March 14, 2011

Gaps in educational achievement open early

Parenting is more important than teaching in how well children do in school and in life, according to a researcher named James J. Heckman.  He wrote a research paper saying that the best way to help poor children is to get parents into voluntary programs that help children acquire life skills at a very young age.

… Gaps arise early and persist. Schools do little to bridge these gaps even though the quality of schooling attended varies greatly across social classes. Much evidence tells the same story as Figure 1. Gaps in test scores classified by social and economic status of the family emerge at early ages, before schooling starts, and they persist. Similar gaps emerge and persist in indices of soft skills classified by social and economic status. Again, schooling does little to widen or narrow these gaps. … …

A strategy that places greater emphasis on parenting resources directed to the early years is a strategy that prevents rather than remediates problems. It supplements families and makes them active participants in the process of child development.

Remediation strategies as currently implemented are much less effective. This is the flip side of the argument for early intervention. Many skills that are malleable in the early years are much less so in the teenage years. As a consequence, remediating academic and social deficits in the teenage years is much more costly….For high quality early childhood interventions, there are none of the trade-offs between equity and efficiency that plague most public policies. Early interventions produce broadly based benefits and reduce social and economic inequality. At the same time they promote productivity and economic efficiency. They are both fair and efficient.

via Building Better Kids.

Heckman cited something called the Perry preschool program, which targeted poor, low IQ African-American preschoolers in a city outside Detroit.  The children were taught to plan, executive and evaluate projects on a daily basis.  They were taught social skills.  The program staff visited and advised parents on how to help their children do better.

Because the children were reached early in life, when their minds and attitudes were malleable, the program’s benefits carried on through life – much more so that programs aimed to teenagers or young adults.

Heckman pointed out that while there have been successful programs of early childhood intervention, there is a lot to be learned about what works and what doesn’t.  He said it is important that the programs be voluntary and that different things be tried.  He would like to see non-profit private foundations engaged in experimentation.  (The implication I draw is that they should do this rather than pushing pre-conceived ideas, but he doesn’t actually say this).