Schools and Early Education Programs. Among community institutions, formal schooling plays a major role in shaping children’s development. Completed schooling is a strong correlate of such successful adult outcomes as longevity, career attainments, and avoiding crime (Fuchs, 1983), as well as such two-generation outcomes as successful parenting (Hoff-Ginsberg and Tardiff, 1995).
Nevertheless, researchers have long worried about the potentially spurious nature of these associations. Are they truly the result of the schooling, or do they instead reflect the greater ability or motivation that leads some children to complete more schooling? The most sophisticated studies strongly suggest causal impacts of schooling on earnings as well as other positive outcomes, with the apparent social rate of return to investing in additional years of schooling averaging around 10 percent (Card, 1999). Roughly speaking, this means that investing $10 in interventions that successfully promote the attainment of an additional year of schooling produces a $1 annual increment to participants’ earnings. The relative roles of schooling, income, and occupation in affecting adult health are a matter of considerable debate (Krieger, Williams, and Moss, 1997; Daly et al., 2002).
Education prior to school entry appears to matter as well. Reviews of experimental evaluations of high-quality early childhood education programs have concluded that intensive programs improve children’s short-term cognitive development and long-term academic achievement, as well as reduce grade retention of children in special education (Barnett, 1995; Farran, 2000; Karoly et al., 1998) and rates of academic failure, delinquent behavior, and adolescent pregnancy rates (Hawkins et al., 1992). Furthermore, some of these programs also improve children’s long-term social behavior, as indicated by fewer arrests and reports of delinquent behavior. Indeed, the payoffs to early education programs may well exceed those of formal schooling (Heckman, 1999).
Schools can also have an effect on student behaviors, the ability to arrive at school ready to learn, and overall health. School health programs have increased substantially over the past several decades in recognition of the connection between health and learning. The Institute of Medicine recommended in 1997 that all students in elementary, middle, and junior high school receive sequential health education to help shape their behaviors. The report noted that skills training, peer involvement, social learning theory, and community involvement have the greatest effect on school health education.
Finally, research has confirmed the direct relationship between physical activity and long-term health. School physical education programs over the past decade have in fact shifted toward an emphasis on physical fitness rather than competitive sports. Although there is limited research on the effect of physical education on health, there is some evidence that participation among middle and high school students is below national objectives (Lowry et al., 2001; McKenzie et al., 2000).