Preschool extends disadvantaged kids’ years in school

Early childhood education is one of the issues the presidential candidates are jousting over this campaign season. And while there is plenty of scientific evidence that intensive early education interventions targeted specifically to disadvantaged children have significant benefits, there is now evidence that preprimary education leads to more years spent in school, based on the experience of children from relatively disadvantaged households in Uruguay.

Sebastian Galiani, associate professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, shows that preprimary education has significant long-term gains. Galiani and two colleagues culled information from the Uruguayan household surveys that collects retrospective information on preschool attendance.

“The gains from attending preschool increased as the children grew older,” Galiani said. “The evidence suggests that those children have .8 extra years of education than their counterparts who didn’t go to preschool, and are 27 percentage points more likely to be in school by the time they’re 15 years old.”

In the past decade, there has been a major growth in the availability of public pre-primary education in Uruguay. As a result, Galiani and his co-authors were able to compare children within the same household who had different educational experiences.

“By comparing kids in the same household with different access to preschool education, we could essentially control for the fact that children from different families are exposed to different values and different experiences,” Galiani said.

“Once you know the effect of preprimary education on subsequent educational achievements, we can estimate the private and social gains of this intervention and compare them to its cost,” Galiani said. “We find preprimary education to be highly cost-effective.”

Because the rates of prekindergarten attendance in Uruguay were not that different from those in the United States, Galiani said that the research findings help make a case for universal preschool in the U.S.

Galiani’s conducted his research with Samuel Berlinski from University College London and Institute for Fiscal Studies and Marco Manacorda, a professor at Queen Mary University of London. The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Public Economics.

Editor’s note: Professor Galiani is available for live or taped broadcast-quality interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines. Please contact Shula Neuman at (314) 935-5202 for assistance.