Lessons from Three Studies

Barnett described benefit-cost analyses of three of the best known early childhood programs: (1) the Perry Preschool Project, (2) the Carolina Abecedarian Project, and (3) the Chicago Child Parent Center (see Box 4-1). All three programs have been extensively studied, and Barnett presented some results from the most recent economic analyses, shown in Table 4-1, with a focus on the ways in which they approached benefit-cost analysis, their comparability, and factors that might explain their disparate results. For his summary he drew on Belfield, Nores, Barnett, and Schweinhart (2006); Barnett and Masse (2007); and Temple and Reynolds (2007). He characterized the benefit-cost ratio estimates in general terms to reflect the degree of confidence he had in them.

Barnett provided a breakdown of the value, in 2002 dollars, of the different beneficial outcomes for each of the programs, as shown in Figures 4-1, 4-2, and 4-3, and called attention to fairly large differences across the three programs. For example, the benefits in crime reduction are very large for the Perry Preschool Project; such benefits are not evident for the Carolina Abecedarian Project.

The differences in the benefit profiles reflect differences among the programs, the settings in which they operated (e.g., the baseline crime rates in the cities where the programs were located), and the populations they have served, Barnett noted. They also reflect differences in the goals of the programs, the sorts of data that were available, and the ways potential benefits were measured. Barnett suggested that researchers have made significant progress since the early 1960s, when the earliest of these

BOX 4-1

The Chicago Child Parent Center

Since 1967 the city of Chicago has provided preschool and associated support services to children and families who live in low-income neighborhoods. Eligible children ages 3-5 may participate for two years prior to entering kindergarten and may attend for half days or full days. The program addresses basic academic skills, growth and development, parenting skills, health, safety, and nutrition—parent participation in classroom activities is required. The program, which is administered by the Chicago public schools, is supported with federal funds. A federally funded longitudinal study of the program was begun in 1986.

SOURCES: For information on the longitudinal study, see Chicago Longitudinal Study (2004); for the Chicago Child Parent Center, see Chicago Public Schools (2009).

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