June 1 2007

Quality early learning opportunities – where children learn how to learn –is increasingly recognized as an essential part of the education continuum that extends through adulthood.

Keeping children fed, comfortable and safe isn’t enough, according to the research on early learning. Quality early learning opportunities – where children learn how to learn – are increasingly recognized as an essential part of the education continuum that extends through adulthood. The National Academy of Sciences says high quality child care and early childhood education can give young children learning experiences that have a positive effect on early learning, language development and school achievement.

The K-12 responsibility for educating children long has been primarily a public one nationally and in Pennsylvania. The state Constitution requires the legislature to maintain and support a thorough and efficient education system. But research demonstrates first grade, even kindergarten, may be too late to begin. Learning how to learn starts earlier.

Research by a number of organizations over the past several years demonstrates quality early education is important to the learning process. The first few years of life are critical to growth and brain development, creating pathways for learning. The early years are especially critical to language development, socialization, and complex thinking - important attributes for success in school and beyond.

Research demonstrates the benefits to the child in terms of improved readiness to learn, improved early literacy, decreased need for special education, and improved cognitive development. Equally compelling is the long term research that shows a stronger likelihood to graduate from high school, improved academic confidence, higher rates of participation in post-secondary education and more. Longitudinal studies indicate higher earning power and decreased involvement in correctional and judicial systems and decreased reliance on social services like welfare. While all these outcomes benefit the child, there are benefits and savings to the family and extended community as well.


From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Research Council. (2000)

The report provided by the National Research Council provides a scientific basis to describe the impact of quality early learning on brain development. It also describes the importance of early brain development in ’hardwiring’ the brain to learn and the role that early life experiences play in neurobiological function.   

Estimated Impacts of Number of Years of Preschool Attendance on Vocabulary, Literacy, and Math Skills at Kindergarten Entry. NIEER. (2006)

This study demonstrates some of the benefits to children who participate in high quality early learning programs compared to children who do not participate in preschool programs. Findings include improved vocabulary and literacy in addition to improve math skills upon entering kindergarten.  

Quality Early Learning - Key to School Success: A First-Phase 3-Year Program Evaluation Research Report for Pittsburgh’s Early Childhood Initiative (ECI). Bagnato, Smith-Jones, McClomb, Cook-Kilroy. The UCLID Center at the University of Pittsburgh. (2002)

This research evaluates the initial outcomes of the Allegheny County ECI program operating in low-income neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area and finds benefits to participating children including lower grade retention, improved preparation for early elementary school, and improved social skills compared to non-participating children in the same districts. This is the first report in a multi-phase evaluation.  

Longitudinal Studies

The Children of the Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Go to School. US Department of Education, Carnegie Corporation of New York, University of North Carolina. (1999)

Early Learning, Later Success: The Abecedarian Project. Frank Porter Graham Center. University of North Carolina (1999)

A Benefit Cost Analysis of the Abecedarian Early Childhood Initiative. NIEER.

Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40. Schweinhart, Monie, Xiang, Barnett, Belfield, Nores. (2005)

Does Early Childhood Intervention Affect the Social and Emotional Development of Participants? Reynolds and Nagasawa. Early Childhood Research & Practice 8 (1) (2006)

Long-Term Effects of an Early Childhood Intervention on Education Achievement and Juvenile Arrest. Journal of the American Medical Association (2001)

These reports document the results of the Abecedarian Preschool Program, an intensive high quality early learning program, the Chicago Child-Parent Center and other longitudinal studies. The studies report that access to quality early learning impacts school readiness. Studies tracking early learning participants into adulthood show participants demonstrating higher IQ scores and achieving higher literacy - both reading and mathematical - and higher post-secondary education participation rates among other educational benefits. Studies also indicate decreased social and emotional problems and lower rates of juvenile arrests and violent arrests for participating students.  

From Cradle to Career: Connecting American Education from Birth through Adulthood. Education Week Quality Counts. (2007)

This report summarizes the demonstrated benefits of early learning as a predictor of success in life. The Education Week report includes a ’Chance for Success’ Index that includes benchmarks throughout the lifecycle of learning - from early learning through adult learning.