Regarding the Feb. 19 Outlook essay “ Pre-K can provide a boost, but the gains can fade fast ”:
The analysis by Drew Bailey, Greg Duncan and Candice Odgers struggled to thoroughly frame the issue. The writers noted that basic math and reading skills, while easy to test, are not the only measures of current knowledge or future success. Accordingly, we maintain that the long-term effects mentioned in the article, high school graduation, higher earnings, fewer arrests and healthier lifestyles, are related to one skill: executive function.
Executive function helps children persevere through adversity, turn basic skills into advanced comprehension and develop into self-regulating, successful citizens. These skills, which children learn in high-quality preschools, have a significant positive effect on life outcomes.
Further, not all gains fade. The Head Start Impact Study found effects did not fade among groups of children most at risk. In a 2010 research paper, Rucker C. Johnson found that fadeout happens when children move into low-performing K-12 schools, but not when they proceed to high-performing schools. Head Start also focuses on children and their families, addressing those “persistent environmental factors” often found in the home.
Fadeout is a myth based on a narrow methodology and scope. The effects of high-quality early learning, especially those with comprehensive, two-generation supports, last a lifetime.
Yasmina Vinci, Alexandria
The writer is executive director of the
National Head Start Association.
In an otherwise thoughtful essay, Drew Bailey, Greg Duncan and Candice Odgers implied that the progress of disadvantaged children is impeded by “hard-to-change characteristics such as intelligence and conscientiousness, as well as persistent environmental factors that are difficult to change with a one-time educational intervention.” One would hope that, among other things, researchers in 2017 would have learned from Nobel laureate in physics William Shockley’s frightening misadventure with group IQ tests and would exercise well-founded caution in ascribing a shortfall in conscientiousness or “grit” to disadvantaged children or their parents (or any groups).
The gains from pre-kindergarten intervention may fade, but the harms from stereotyping do not.
Patrick Driessen, Columbia
A new study claims that the cognitive gains of early-childhood education programs fade over time. It ignores an overwhelming body of recent evidence documenting that so-called fadeout doesn’t exist.
We studied the effectiveness of a wide range of early-childhood programs, including Head Start. All provide lasting effects to children who would have experienced lower-quality child care or not received quality early-childhood education.
Socio-emotional skills, which do not fade out, have greater effects on life outcomes than cognitive skills alone. For example, a study of the Perry Preschool Program, which has a documented lifetime return of 7 to 10 percent, found it increased academic motivation, achievement and employment. Researchers also found decreases in lifetime violent crime by 65 percent, lifetime arrests by 40 percent and unemployment by 20 percent.
Our recent analysis of the short- and long-term effects of a North Carolina program shows lasting boosts in IQ and socio-emotional skills resulting in greater educational achievement, higher adult wages and significantly better health outcomes.
High-quality programs enable upward mobility through the effective building of early skills. Much more can be done to understand how these programs work and how to make them work better, but the evidence overwhelmingly points to the value of investing in quality early-childhood development from birth to age 5.
James J. Heckman, Chicago
The writer is a Nobel laureate in economics.