Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 15, 2013

Forum: Big picture of preschool education

As early as the 1850s citizens concerned with child welfare promoted the benefits of a nurturing home and education as the remedy to a lifetime of poverty, addiction and crime.

In well-meaning but, as it turned out, misguided attempts to save poor, urban children from their certain fates, and protect communities from crime and violence, several philanthropic societies founded programs to serve these children based on the idea that removing them from their “toxic” homes and families and putting them in positive environments was the answer.

It was a “bootstrap” idea — given education and wholesome living conditions, opportunity would knock and these children would answer. There were no data to support this idea, but it seemed that it should work and wealthy patrons poured millions into the efforts.

Fast-forward a little over 100 years … to Ypsilanti, Mich. where a group of educators were promoting the benefits of a nurturing home and education as a remedy for a lifetime of poverty, addiction and crime. Only this time their ideas were based on theory and research.

One of the principles they identified was that removing children from their families does not lead to positive outcomes.

Instead, they proposed to test the hypothesis that targeted, intensive services to families combined with high-quality early care and education would lead to success in school and life. And so the HighScope/Perry Preschool Project began.

Other carefully controlled social experiments followed, among them the Abecedarian Project and Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC) project.

Sixty years later (how time flies) the evidence is in. Continuing research on how the brain grows and functions and new findings about the critical importance of attachment in the social/emotional development of children lead to one — and only one- conclusion: early childhood matters.

The CPC project, launched in 1980, differed in two important ways from earlier studies.

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