Three Easy Pieces (of Research) for Budget Deciders

As the recession drags on, it becomes ever-more-obvious the ABC (across-the-board cuts) approach to controlling government expenditures is harming our chances for a robust economy in the future. That’s because ABC looks at everything as a cost, ignoring investments in areas like early childhood education that are critical to future economic growth. ABC has been in especially heavy use at the state level. Over the past two years, some states have spared pre-K from ABC while others have not.  Other early childhood programs have suffered from ABC, as well.  Next year could see more of the same.

These cuts come at a time when evidence continues to mount on the critical importance of investments in children before they reach school. For budget deciders who may be considering future cuts and may not be not up on the latest findings, I offer three important, easy-to-understand pieces of research that have turned up just this year. Each looks at different impacts of investments on young children and underscores the importance of prioritizing investments in early learning and development.

1.  Poverty’s Negative Effect on the Very Young. A University of California study tracking the lives of children born between 1968 and 1975 found that poverty during the period when children are infants to age 5 has a lasting detrimental impact on outcomes related to attainment such as earnings and hours worked. Negative impacts from poverty during this early period could be measured as late as age 37. Subsequent periods of poverty, when children were older, had fewer detrimental effects.

2.  Why Good Teachers for Young Children Pay Off. Harvard economist Raj Chetty and colleagues have made public findings from a yet-to-be-published study of the life paths of children who were part of Tennessee’s 1980s-era Project Star. Chetty says students who learned more in kindergarten were more likely to attend college than kids with similar backgrounds and more likely to save for retirement and earn more. Here is his Power Point presentation:

3.  Negative Early Experiences Last a Lifetime. A research paper just out from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child presents evidence on how children’s early experiences become integrated into their response systems, leading to long-term effects in areas such as their overall physical health and ability to respond to stress and achieve. The authors call for, among other things, improving the quality of child care and preschool education.

Steve Barnett
Co-director, NIEER


  1. Thanks for providing the links to these valuable studies and for keeping the high quality preschool on the front burner of our economic policies.

  2. As always, timely and helpful resources shared by NIEER. Please also look at (and report on) the importance of high quality early education and intervention for young students who are at risk for learning disabilities and related disorders.