By Lawrence J. Schweinhart/HighScope Educational Research Foundation
Dear Michigan Legislator:
In recent testimony before committees of the Michigan House of Representatives, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy challenged the evidence supporting expansion and improvement of Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program.
As director of the Great Start Readiness Program Evaluation and the Perry Preschool Study, I find his criticisms misleading and want to set the record straight.
The Perry Preschool Study began as a local study in a typical Michigan school district; it could not have been meant to represent all the preschool programs that would come after it. It shows how much a well-implemented preschool program can contribute to the development of young children living in low-income families.
It did not cost $12,500 per child per year -- as Van Beek claims -- but rather $11,100 per child per year in current dollars, about the same as the expenditure per student per year in U.S. K-12 schools today (www.nces.ed.gov).
Van Beek claims that the Perry Preschool program was “nothing like” the Great Start Readiness Program so that the Perry results have “no relevance” to it. He makes this claim despite the obvious fact that both programs were designed to provide early childhood education to young children living in low-income families in Michigan.
Perry teachers were certified teachers, as are most Great Start teachers. The Perry program operated three hours a day, as do most Great Start programs.
The Perry program had a few features that Great Start programs do not now uniformly have – weekly home visits, a well-implemented interactive curriculum, and regular feedback from assessment of program implementation and children’s development. But these additional features are well within the reach of Great Start programs, particularly if legislators give administrators and teachers the resources and flexibility to implement them.
Van Beek discounts the Great Start evaluation because it did not randomly assign children to receive the program or not. But it did identify a comparison group in the obvious way of selecting low-income classmates of the Great Start participants. In fact, compared to these classmates, the Great Start participants were more disadvantaged because they had additional risk factors; nevertheless, they did better in school. An independent evaluation by the National Institute for Early Education Research also found strong program effects on literacy and math skills.
The Great Start Readiness Program has been shown to help low-income children become more ready for school, do better on achievement tests, repeat fewer grades and help students to graduate from high school on time. It has more evidence of its effectiveness than any grade from kindergarten through 12th grade. With some modest improvements, it could become even more like the Perry Preschool Program and deliver additional long-term effects and return on investment to the state’s taxpayers.
We owe it to our children and ourselves to give our children this opportunity.
Lawrence J. Schweinhart is president of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti.