Menu Close

Articles written by NIEER and published by outside organizations

Journal Articles

Benefits and costs of quality early childhood education.

December 15, 2017

By Barnett, W. S. (2007).

Early childhood education is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in American education. The vast majority of states support some early childhood education programs apart from preschool special education (which every state mandates), and an increasing number of states are committed to providing every child a public education at age four. In a few states, early childhood education is established as a legal entitlement. There is also movement toward better educational services for children under three in several states. For example, the Early Head Start program is a federal initiative for children in poverty. Policy leaders support public investments in early childhood education because such investments make economic sense. Evidence on costs and benefits also influenced these developments. This article reviews the economic studies and puts them in the context of the larger research literature on the effects of early childhood education. It concludes that although carefully designed programs and policies can produce substantial benefits for children with high economic returns to society, most current programs and policies are not so well designed and tend to have weak effects and more limited benefits.