Brain Development

Less than half of low-income children have access to high-quality early childhood programs that could dramatically improve their opportunities for a better future. This statistic is tragic when one considers that skills developed in the first five years of life greatly influence success later in life. Expanding access and options for parents to access quality early childhood programs have proven benefits for individuals and society in reduced healthcare costs, increased school achievement and a more educated workforce.

This research details the evidence showing the affects high-quality early childhood programs have on brain development.


Bassok, D.; Bridges, M.; Fuller, B.; Gibbs, C.R.; Latham, S.; Loeb, S.; Magnuson, K.A.; Ruhm, C.J.; Rumberger, R.; Waldfogel, J.
• Four separate studies come to the same conclusion:
— All studies found a positive relationship between center-based care in the year prior to kindergarten and children’s cognitive outcomes.
— Magnuson, Ruhm and Waldfogel found that center attendees outperformed children who stayed at home on both reading and math assessments, with differences of .12 and .10 standard deviations.
— Bassok (2010) and Magnuson, Ruhm, and Waldfogel found that targeted early intervention can be effective in closing achievement gaps. Center participation had substantially greater impacts for nonpoor blacks than for nonpoor whites. There is
 a large relationship between center care and cognitive outcomes for very poor children and for those with low parental education.
— These different studies used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study and the extraordinary amounts of data it collected. Because of the large sample size the data can be further separated to analyze differences among subgroups.

Source: Bassok, Daphna; Gibbs, Chloe R.; Latham, Scott; 2013. Bassok, Daphna, 2010. Loeb, Susanna; Bridges, Margaret; Bassok, Daphna; Fuller, Bruce; Rumberger, Russell; 2007. Magnuson, Katherine A.; Ruhm, Christopher J.; Waldfogel, Jane; 2007.

Gormley, W.T.
• The authors used a regression discontinuity design (as mentioned earlier, using a predetermined cutoff to naturally select groups while preventing selection bias) to compare children just missing the enrollment cutoff date with those able to enroll in the Oklahoma preschool program.
• After comparing children in Oklahoma who enrolled in one year with those children whose birthdays were just after the cutoff date but who enrolled the following year, the study found a .79 standard deviation gap on letter-word identification and a .38 standard deviation gap on applied prolem measure between those who attended preschool and those who did not. These positive effects were across all racial and socioeconomic groups.

Source: Gormley, W.T., et al. (2005). The effects of universal pre-K on cognitive development. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 872-884.

Kuhl, Patricia

• Brains of 7-month and 11-month-old babies rehearse how to produce language, even though babies are still months away from saying their first words.
• Neuroimaging data show that 7-month-old infants activate auditory and motor brain areas in response to speech in native and nonnative languages. In 11- and 12-month-old infants, speech in native languages activates auditory brain areas whereas nonnative speech activates motor brain areas. This finding matches the behavior of adult brains.

Source: Kuhl, Patricia, et al. (August 2014). Infants’ brain responses to speech suggest Analysis by Synthesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Peisner-Feinberg, E.
• Results showed that participation in Georgia’s Pre-K Program significantly improved children’s school readiness skills across a wide range of language, literacy, math and general knowledge measures.
• Participation had significant effects on children’s language, literacy and math skills, including in: letter knowledge, letter-word identification, phonological awareness, math problem- solving and counting.

Source: Peisner-Feinberg, Ellen, et al. (2014). Effects of Georgia’s Pre-K Program on Children’s School Readiness Skills. Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina.

Peisner-Feinberg, E.; Schaaf, J.M.
• Poor children who attended North Carolina’s preschool program performed better on third grade state reading and math tests than their peers who did not attend the program.

Source: Peisner-Feinberg, Ellen and Jennifer M. Schaaf. (2010). Long-term Effects of the North Carolina More at Four Pre-kindergarten Program. Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina.