At Aspen Forum, Heckman Emphasizes Importance of Quality in Early Childhood Programs

One week after the inauguration of Donald Trump, policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and philanthropists gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Children and Families.

Among the list of impressive speakers and presenters was Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman from the University of Chicago. Professor Heckman used his time to share compelling data from his groundbreaking new research on the benefits of starting early with comprehensive, high-quality, birth-to-five early education.

Heckman’s new research shows that high quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13% per year return on investment—a rate substantially higher than the 7-10% return previously established for preschool programs serving 3- to 4-year-olds.

What contributes to this higher rate of return?

There are many factors, such as the fact that this is the first time Heckman and his team have calculated health benefits as well as a two-generation effect on the workforce. However, the primary factor that drives the best outcomes for children is the quality of care children receive, according to the research.

“Children who received treatment had significantly better life outcomes than those who did not receive center-based care or those who received lower quality care. 75% of the control group children were enrolled in relatively low quality alternative childcare centers, usually after age 3; others stayed at home.”

This reiterates the importance of research, and that the value of long-term evaluations is essential. Effective early childhood policy is really effective policy. Professor Heckman’s research emphasizes starting earlier provider’s greater returns and there is more to gain by taking a comprehensive approach to early childhood learning and development.

As Professor Heckman puts it, “Policymakers would be wise to coordinate these early childhood resources into a scaffolding of developmental support for disadvantaged children and provide access to all in need. The gains are significant because quality programs pay for themselves many times over. The cost of inaction is a tragic loss of human and economic potential that we cannot afford.”

Watch Heckman’s presentation here: