Poor children who attend intensive preschools are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to be arrested than poor children who have not participated in such programs, according to a study of the benefits of inner-city preschools that followed children for 15 years.
Although there have been studies of the benefits of preschool education, none appears to have been as comprehensive and long-running as this one. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, whose findings appeared yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked 1,500 children from inner-city Chicago from the time they were of preschool age in 1985 until they reached age 20 last year. The researchers concluded that programs such as Head Start, if properly structured, pay dividends long after children have learned to read.
The findings come as the Bush administration prepares a highly scripted pre-reading curriculum for the nation's 16,000 Head Start centers, a loose confederation that has operated with few set rules. By contrast, a rigorous reading curriculum is a centerpiece of the child care centers in Chicago that are the subject of the study.
The study also sounds an early warning about the Bush plan. The Chicago preschool program, which is managed by the public school system in 23 centers on the city's West Side, requires parents to participate, usually by taking remedial courses and classes on being a good parent, and offers a range of social services. In setting priorities for Head Start, the Bush administration has ranked those existing aspects of the program below reading, much to the concern of Head Start advocates.
"It's more than just providing basic literacy skills," said Arthur J. Reynolds, a professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who was the lead author of the study.
The study tracked 989 children, all born in 1980, who enrolled in the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program by age 4, and were taught an average of 2.5 hours a day for 18 months. Nearly all were living at or below the poverty level.
The researchers found that the preschoolers had a lower rate of arrest for juvenile crimes than those who did not attend preschool (16.9 percent, compared with 25.1 percent), and that the preschoolers had a higher rate of graduating from high school (49.7 percent, compared with 38.5 percent).