Return on investment from early childhood education

People like to talk about “investing” in education. Too often you get the feeling that objective criteria still don’t really play a big part in how to spend education dollars. Here’s a chart that helps us see where that investment can really pay off:

University of Chicago economist (and Nobel Laureate) Dr. James Heckman uses a cost-benefit approach to demonstrate that investing in programs for very young children provides far greater economic benefits to society, as compared to formal or remedial programs for older youth or adults. In fact, Heckman’s detailed research shows some powerful advantages to extending ECE and pre-school education. Some key benefits are summarized in the 2009 Martin-Florida Report as follows:

  • Caregiver trust, which leads to higher confidence, less rigid approaches to problem solving, and higher levels of curiosity later in life
  • Language acquisition skills, which are important for verbal conflict resolution and curbing aggressiveness
  • Appreciation of relative quantities, which helps in later higher-order, non-rote mathematics
  • Symbol recognition, which is essential to advanced verbal and quantitative processes

This is an argument that should appeal to social conservatives. Spending more on early childhood education is a fiscal choice that shows prudence. It’s a way to reduce expenditures on  more costly social programs, while building a solid base of human capital to support economic growth in the next thirty years.


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