The Dim-Post

June 15, 2011

The Left’s next big thing

Filed under: policy — danylmc @ 10:15 am

Kevin Drum writes about a study in Science on the long term effects of intensive pre-school intervention amongst at-risk children in Chicago:

The study group is a cohort of mostly African-American children born in 1979-80, and the followup study was done when they were 28 years old. Here’s the headline set of charts:

I haven’t fully read the Gluckman report into child development but he comes to similar conclusions: early childhood education has a massive impact on outcomes in later life. It’s obvious to me now that in terms of progressive left-wing policy, expanding the core responsibilities of the state to include universal pre-school education is the next big thing.

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44 Comments »

  1. Am I reading the 2nd graph correctly? If the mother completed High School and the child went to preschool, the child is more likely to have a felony charge?

    Comment by Gregor W — June 15, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  2. What bothers me about these studies is someone looks at them and says “more preschool = equals less crime”. But I wonder if the answer is more complicated than that. For example, are the kids who went to preschool also exposed to other factors, were parents who sent kids to preschool had a different set of moral values and priorities which they instilled in their children, that is the preschool was just incidental to the true underlying factor.

    Comment by Jaymal — June 15, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  3. I’m not sure it’s the *next big thing*. I remember this being really obvious from research ten years ago. One of Mallard’s strong points as minister of education at the time was that he was very aware of all the research about the benefits of early childhood education and acted on it accordingly. The basic principle is that the best interventions are early, ongoing, regular and involve the whole family rather than an individual. Early childhood ed meets all four of these criteria in a much more cost-effective way than pretty much any other intervention that social welfare has ever come up with. And because it’s universal it doesn’t miss out anyone who is at risk but not been picked up by ‘the system’.

    Comment by stevedore — June 15, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  4. Danyl ,the graphs only tell part of the story but if we were to rely only on them, one obvious conclusion would be targeted support to provide preschool education to children of mothers who did not complete high school, rather than universal support.

    Comment by Dave Guerin — June 15, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  5. Indeed, as we all need to chant after seeing graphs like these – “correlation is not necessarily causation…”

    However, I would be fascinated to see whether there’s a New Zealand study out there along similar lines. Perhaps achieving level 2 NCEA or 6th form certificate could sub in for the ‘finishing high school’ measure.

    Comment by Conrad — June 15, 2011 @ 10:51 am

  6. Sorry my comment at 4. was in response to Jaymal’s at 2.

    Comment by Conrad — June 15, 2011 @ 10:51 am

  7. The rate of return from investing in early childhood education is 8 to 1 – http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16436

    I cannot think of many other public investments with an ROI in that range…

    Comment by Conor Roberts — June 15, 2011 @ 10:53 am

  8. At Jaymal. I know, those who went to preschool probably had parents more interested in feeding them and who placed a higher value on education etc etc. To my mind most graphs like those show actually very little. I prefer the mother completed highschool influence. Couldn’t the emphasis of this post easily be if your mother completed highschool you’re more likely to finish it yourself, not commit a felony and not be a substance abuser. Therefore, “It’s obvious to me now that in terms of progressive left-wing policy, expanding the core responsibilities of the state to provide adequate education through teenage development is the next big thing.”

    Comment by nw — June 15, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  9. At Conor, I’m not saying early childhood is a bad investment or not desirable. Just pointing out that this graph doesn’t really show much…

    Comment by nw — June 15, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  10. Generally speaking, mothers non-completion of high school looks like a good thing for felony reduction :)

    Comment by DT — June 15, 2011 @ 11:12 am

  11. I cannot think of many other public investments with an ROI in that range…
    I think that road to Omaha must have…

    Comment by garethw — June 15, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  12. “It’s obvious to me now that in terms of progressive left-wing policy, expanding the core responsibilities of the state to provide adequate education through teenage development is the next big thing.”
    Ummm, I’m pretty sure that already is a “big thing”

    Comment by garethw — June 15, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  13. I’m with nw – the graphs show that it is much more worthwhile investing in high school attendance rather than preschool – in all categories. It takes quite some oversight to make an argument on kindy attendance when presented with this data. the effect of HS education of the parent/s in terms of actually raising the rate of kindergarten attendance for their offspring should also be examined. It is probably the case that positive intervention in the former also positively influences the other…

    Comment by Sam — June 15, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  14. Danyl ,the graphs only tell part of the story but if we were to rely only on them, one obvious conclusion would be targeted support to provide preschool education to children of mothers who did not complete high school, rather than universal support.

    I believe this is in line with Gluckman’s report (at least from his public comments about it): quality early childhood education makes a massive difference for vulnerable children. For the children of the middle classes, it doesn’t make much difference at all.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — June 15, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  15. ‘Indeed, as we all need to chant after seeing graphs like these – “correlation is not necessarily causation…”’

    True, but I’m pretty sure this was longitudinal intervention study, where there was random or matched placement of disadvantaged kids into preschool and no preschool groups, forty or so years ago. When I was studying child development in the late eighties first positive results were starting to come in.

    Comment by Southernrata — June 15, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  16. the graphs show that it is much more worthwhile investing in high school attendance rather than preschool
    Again, we already are. If we were to graph “sending kids to school” or “letting kids breath” on there I’m pretty sure it would also look good – it wouldn’t then be an argument to not do the other things that also show dramatic outcomes unto themselves.

    Comment by garethw — June 15, 2011 @ 11:28 am

  17. p.s. 11% of African Americans whose mothers have completed High School face felony charges by age 31 … WTF?

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — June 15, 2011 @ 11:28 am

  18. Again, from the abstract – “program participation was independently linked to higher educational attainment, income, socioeconomic status (SES), and health insurance coverage, as well as lower rates of justice-system involvement and substance abuse”.
    It notes that the impacts are stronger on males and children of high-school dropout but still significant globally.

    I suspect that parental drop-out rates are simply being used as a proxy for some kind of in-home SES or cultural factor (don’t have account to Science sorry).

    Comment by garethw — June 15, 2011 @ 11:33 am

  19. However, I would be fascinated to see whether there’s a New Zealand study out there along similar lines.
    The Dunedin Longitudinal Study covers this amongst many other things – and is where world-leading science is going on. Richie Poulter, who leads the study, along with others from the study have had a large amount of input into Labour’s “Kids First” policy, that include the expansion of ECE, parental leave etc – allowing us to put more into those vital years for our children. There’s some serious science behind it.

    The Dunedin Study’s stats (and Peter Gluckman’s, who probably draws heavily from them) show that by teenage years it’s too late. Sam says you want to invest in high school education – and while that is important, if they haven’t had the early childhood investment, they’re less likely to complete that education regardless of how much we spend on it.

    The most important things learnt in those early years is self-control. It’s not maths or the alphabet, but social skills, and self-awareness that needs to be taught. That’s why it’s vital that we have qualified teachers and free ECE universally available, rather than National’s dilution with child-minders and cuts.

    Comment by Ben Clark — June 15, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  20. Oh, and if we do want to do even more to ensure high-school completion of mothers? Well that study shows the next generation of mothers are more likely to do so if we invest in their early childhood education now. It’s in teh graph and everyfink!

    Comment by garethw — June 15, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  21. Labour’s “Kids First” policy, that include the expansion of ECE, parental leave etc
    Would be interested to see this…

    Comment by Gareth Ward — June 15, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  22. It’s hard to know if increasing the proportion of people finishing high school would make any difference at all. Whether or not someone in New Zealand finishes high school is largely a matter of whether they decide to, influenced by their aptitude for school and their ambitions – it has very little to do with availability of education. Therefore it is likely to be basically influenced by the same factors that influence how good a parent someone will become, rather than having any influence on parenting skills.

    Comment by Kahikatea — June 15, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  23. the graphs show that it is much more worthwhile investing in high school attendance rather than preschool

    That’s for the next generation. If we ensure people finish high school, the graphs suggests that people’s kids will do okay, not that they will be okay. Of course, that’s probably also true, but the evidence isn’t reflected in these graphs.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — June 15, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  24. Graeme Edgeler @17: What is considered a felony in America might only be considered a minor crime in other (more sensible) countries.

    What’s worrying for democracy is that in some states people convicted for felonies permanently lose their right to vote or serve on juries.

    Comment by Newtown News — June 15, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  25. Some light reading.

    Section 3.1.1

    Comment by Gregor W — June 15, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  26. I recall Labour had a policy at the 2008 election of raising the school leaving age to 18. I’m not sure if keeping kids in school against their will is going to reduce crime. Maybe instead we should look at why they don’t want to stick with education.

    Comment by Newtown News — June 15, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  27. Graeme,

    p.s. 11% of African Americans whose mothers have completed High School face felony charges by age 31 … WTF?

    I was going to say this study is an intervention in a particularly under-privileged region, but perhaps it’s not too far from being representative

    “…we estimate that among men born between 1965 and 1969, 3 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks had served time in prison by their early thirties.”

    Comment by david winter — June 15, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

  28. Another factor in the benefit of preschool, would be the monitoring of children.

    When kids turn up at preschool regularly hungry, dirty, injured, then the teachers are able to notify support services.

    So there would be a number of factors in the benefits of preschooling, besides the education aspects.

    Comment by Graeme — June 15, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

  29. Early ed is a no-brainer. But it’s probably up against societal pressure for 10-minute solutions rather than 10-year ones.

    Comment by DeepRed — June 15, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  30. Early childhood education in New Zealand is already producing some great results, kids , esp under 5 , just sap up information but National are deaf to modern teaching programmes.

    As someone said upstream it’s a no-brainer for smart governments but we haven’t got a smart government or even a competent education minister.

    Comment by John — June 15, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  31. @Owen: from the atlantic link “…More realistically, if you limited it to, say, the third of the population most at risk, it would cost something like $25 billion. And if you count just the amount over and above what we already spend on existing preschool programs, it’s more on the order of $15 billion… …If we could replicate the results of Chicago’s Child-Parent Center (or Perry Pre-School, or Abecedarian), then yes, it would be a no-brainer. But that’s a pretty big hurdle. As I’ve written before, it’s a huge mistake to assume that a pilot program can be rolled out on a large scale…”

    Fifteen billion, then. But we must be cautious. Heaven forbid the US diverts about four or five days of it’s defence budget onto an experimental program to massively improve the life prospects of poor children.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 15, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  32. @ Sanc

    Particularly if later in life those poor kids can then be trained into more effective cannon-fodder for the machine.

    Comment by Gregor W — June 15, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  33. Irrelevant discussion.

    The Nats are cutting funding for all education. Those John Key tax cuts give the parents so much more money ,you see.

    The parents can now afford to pay for the kids education. It gets the nasty “nanny state” out of education.

    The libertarian paradise is upon us.

    The top 5% of income earners rejoice at our Hawaiian prime minister’s largess.

    The rest of us serfs just turn to “non mainstream activities” to get money and educate our kids our way.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — June 15, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

  34. peterlepaysan: Indeed. And even if Labour has some good policy in this area, it doesn’t matter. In determining whether which party should be in government, policy is for suckers. Instead, its far more important to decide based on whether they can probably manage a webserver.

    Comment by wtl — June 15, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

  35. properly, not probably, of course :)

    Comment by wtl — June 15, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  36. “What is considered a felony in America might only be considered a minor crime in other (more sensible) countries”

    I wonder what proportion are drug-related.

    I presume many of those kids didn’t have fathers around, one of the major at-risk factors.

    Comment by NeilM — June 15, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

  37. What a load of crap. Rich folk in the 80’s sent their kids to preschool, and we already know rich folk’s kids end up in rehab rather than prison. Donation to the policeman’s favourite charity and all that.

    Comment by tussock — June 16, 2011 @ 12:56 am

  38. @NeilM: “As of 2006, 49.3% of state prisoners, or 656,000 individuals, were incarcerated for non-violent crimes. As of 2008, 90.7% of federal prisoners, or 165,457 individuals, were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.[22] Drug offenses account for two-thirds of the federal inmate population; approximately half a million people are in prison for a drug offense today compared to 40,000 in 1981—an increase of 1,100 percent.[23]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_incarceration_timeline-clean.svg

    Sorry for not having a better source than wikipedia but I’m very very lazy

    Comment by Newtown News — June 16, 2011 @ 7:03 am

  39. Am I reading the 2nd graph correctly? If the mother completed High School and the child went to preschool, the child is more likely to have a felony charge?

    I’d say that you are reading it incorrectly, and you need to look at the error bars. The way it looks to me, if the mother completed high school, then attending preschool does not affect the likelihood of the child having a felony charge

    Comment by derp de derp — June 16, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  40. Thankd derp. Forgot about the standard deviation etc.
    Stats not my strong point!

    Comment by Gregor W — June 16, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  41. Ummm, so how do we reconcile that with studies like this:

    http://papers.nber.org/papers/w17085

    Comment by Miguel Sanchez — June 16, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  42. Are we not missing the obvious here. Genes? If the mother has genetic makeup that encourage her to do well at school she will graduate high school and encourage her offspring to do likewise. Accordingly she is likly to pass some of her genetic makeup to her child. Without knowing more details about mother and child it is a bit much to get excited about these result. I would think that what sort of economic background the mother had would also be an important indicator.

    Comment by Ron — June 16, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

  43. I am not about to believe, let alone BUY studies from fascist thinktanks – especially Yank. I prefer a little academic rigour rather than ideology.

    Comment by Glob — June 22, 2011 @ 10:11 pm


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