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The Impact of Early Education

For more than 30 years Horizons’ work has been rooted in the knowledge that the impacts of high-quality early education are far-reaching. Providing enriching curriculum to our youngest students sets them up for lifelong success academically.

A new study, “The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston,” published for the School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, supports this notion with tangible evidence. In the study, economists Guthrie Gray-Lobe (UChicago), Parag Pathak (MIT), and Christopher Walters (UC Berkeley) studied the short and long-run impacts of Boston Public Schools’ universal public preschool program. According to the brief, it is the first study that uses a randomized research design to examine the long-term outcomes of children attending a large-scale program.

The study concluded with three key findings, all of which highlight how important a strong educational foundation is to a child’s success later in life – both in and out of a school setting.

Key finding #1: Public preschool in Boston boosted educational attainment.

The study revealed that preschool attendance made students more likely to take the SAT, graduate high school, and attend college, all milestones of educational attainment.

“Having access to quality early education in a child’s formative years is vital to their lifelong success as students,” said Kate Barrand, Horizons’ President and CEO. “By providing access to all that school has to offer earlier than they might otherwise experience it, Horizons’ students have a much higher probability of entering kindergarten at the same level as any other child because they’ve been benefiting from the stimulation and consistency of school since infancy.”

A Horizons student takes advantage of the light box in our new STEM room.

Key finding #2: The short-term impacts of preschool are evident in student behavior but not test scores.

Although researchers found that Boston public preschool had little to no impact on standardized test scores throughout a student’s academic career, they did find preschool attendance reduced total high school suspensions and decreased the likelihood of juvenile incarceration.

According to researchers, positive behavioral impacts suggest that the ongoing skill formation culminates in increased educational attainment. “The sooner a child learns to manage distractions and self-regulate, the more those techniques will be embedded in who they are and how they approach school every day. So much of learning in our classrooms is about being prepared to learn in the years that will follow,” said Jayd Rodrigues, Center Director.

Key finding #3: The benefits of preschool are larger for boys than girls but do not differ by race and income.

The final key finding released concluded that boys and girls who attend preschool have an increased chance of going to college, but that increase is greater for boys.

The study also concluded that “Notwithstanding the gender difference, this study suggests that all students – regardless of race or income – are likely to benefit from a universal preschool program.”

“Preschool is an important foundation for all children,” said Sheila O’Neil, Horizons’ Executive Director, Community Children’s Centers & Family Partnerships. “Our focus at Horizons is on serving the unique needs of children experiencing homelessness so that we may mitigate the negative impact of that experience and give them access to early learning experiences as positive and dynamic as possible.”

A Horizons student engages in sensory play by exploring sand.

Pre-kindergarten at Horizons

All three key findings support something we know well at Horizons; early education is instrumental in preparing children for school and life after school. Children without access to quality early education are behind their peers before they even start kindergarten. The City of Boston recognized the need for universal preschool and has made it available since the late 1990s. Horizons operates as one of the Universal Pre-K sites for the city, now with three pre-K classrooms. At Horizons’ we actively work against that, operating on the notion that education should not be a privilege, but a societal standard. We believe every child deserves quality early education, regardless of income.

Source: Gray-Lobe, G., Pathak, P. A., and C. R. Walters (2021): “The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston,” SEII Discussion Paper #2021.05.

This post was written by Rachel San Giacomo, a regular contributor to Horizons’ blog

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