The HighScope Perry Preschool program, conducted from 1962 to 1967 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, was offered to African-American children from neighborhoods with low incomes. Teachers were certified with at least a bachelor’s degree, the average child-teacher ratio was 6:1, and teachers provided weekly, 1.5 hour home visits for all participants. The HighScope Perry Preschool model encourages active learning, where children plan their own activities, carry them out, and reflect on them. Adults arrange the classroom to foster learning in various areas and coach children as the children plan activities, solve problems, and think through their ideas1, 2.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Increased academic achievement
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
Increased high school completion
Reduced teen pregnancy
Increased healthy behaviors
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is some evidence that the HighScope Perry (HSP) preschool model increases children’s academic achievement1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. However, additional evidence and replication on a larger scale is needed to confirm effects.
Research following one cohort of HSP preschool students through age 50 indicates that participants have greater academic success, increased employment and earnings, reduced childhood antisocial behavior, and lower rates of crime and incarceration in adulthood than their peers6, 7. These students also have healthier behaviors such as increased use of preventive health care and reduced alcohol and drug use relative to their peers8, 9, 10. Girls, in particular, are much more likely to complete high school1, and are less likely to give birth before age 19 than non-participating peers5. HSP boys are arrested less often as teenagers and adults, and get in fewer gang fights than non-participating peers1. Positive intergenerational spillover effects have been identified in the children of HSP students compared to those of nonparticipants, including fewer school suspensions, higher levels of education and employment, and lower levels of participation in crime11.
The HSP approach also includes child-directed free play under the supervision of staff emphasizing the cultivation of interpersonal skills, which has been shown to improve healthy development, especially social development12. The original HSP preschool program used deficit-based framing at the administrative level, though some or most teachers subscribed to asset-based framing13, 14. Additional research is needed to determine which HSP preschool features or combination of features (e.g., teacher training, curriculum, child assessment, services offered, etc.) support positive outcomes15.
A cost benefit analysis indicates Ypsilanti’s HSP preschool yielded an average societal benefit of $6.60 for every dollar invested16, almost a 7 times return on investment (ROI)6. Another analysis finds the benefit-cost ratio is 9 to 1, when accounting for the cumulative benefits of increased labor income, reduced crime and costs to the criminal justice system, improved health and healthy behaviors, and the positive spillover effects on participants’ families17.
Potential to decrease disparities: Supported by some evidence
There is some evidence that the HighScope Perry (HSP) preschool model has the potential to decrease disparities in educational attainment between Black children from families with low incomes and white children from families with higher incomes by increasing participants’ academic achievement1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Generally, studies of preschool education programs have shown that gains in cognitive skills and academic achievement are larger for students from families with low incomes than for students from families with high incomes19, 20. A benefit-cost analysis of the HSP preschool project shows multi-generational benefits for participants and their children, as well as large, positive net gains for society17. However, additional evidence and larger scale implementation are needed to confirm effects on disparities.
Education disparities in the United States are shaped by many factors, including a long history of racial segregation in schools. In 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional21, but segregation remains a persistent problem22. Some legal battles over school segregation were not resolved until 201623 and structural barriers, such as continued residential segregation, play a significant role in maintaining school segregation22.
National interest regarding preschool as an intervention to address educational disparities was high in the 1960s when the HighScope Perry (HSP) preschool program was conducted13. The federal Head Start program began in 196524 and the first nationwide education inequality report, known as the Coleman Report, was mandated by the Civil Rights Act of 196425. Educational disparities across racial and economic groups were highlighted as a concern by teachers, administrators, and policymakers during this period with the Civil Rights movement and the “war on poverty”26. Since then, evidence from the HSP preschool model has been influential in garnering support for more recent early childhood education models.
- What knowledge, skills, and abilities do families and children with low incomes in your community already have? How can your local preschool program be structured to highlight and build on those strengths?
- How could your community increase access to high quality preschool programs for children from families with low incomes? For students identifying as a racial or ethnic minority?
- Which populations in your community have lower rates of preschool attendance? What outreach activities might help reduce those disparities?
- What educational disparities exist in your community? How do systemic factors such as disproportional school discipline rates and residential segregation contribute to these disparities?
The original HighScope Perry Preschool is no longer operating. HighScope now maintains a demonstration classroom in Ypsilanti, Michigan that features the HighScope curriculum1, 18. The HighScope curriculum, built on the HighScope Perry Preschool model, is used in Head Start programs, as well as various public pre-kindergarten programs, and private preschools across the United States. This curriculum continues to evolve based on ongoing research18.
The HighScope Educational Research Foundation also offers training, material development, and curriculum assistance to preschool programs around the country1.
‡ Resources with a focus on equity.
HighScope - HighScope. Inspiring educators to inspire children.
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1 PPN - Promising Practices Network (PPN). On children, families and communities.
2 SPTW - Social Programs That Work (SPTW). Full list of programs.
3 CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) education programs to promote health equity.
4 YG-PPP - Youth.gov (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Perry Preschool Project (PPP).
5 Blueprints - Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV). Blueprints for healthy youth development.
6 Schweinhart 2013 - Schweinhart LJ. Long-term follow-up of a preschool experiment. Journal of Experimental Criminology. 2013;9(4):389-409.
7 Heckman 2010b - Heckman J, Moon SH, Pinto R, Savelyev P, Yavitz A. Analyzing social experiments as implemented: A reexamination of the evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program. Quantitative Economics. 2010;1(1):1-46.
8 Muennig 2009 - Muennig P, Schweinhart L, Montie J, Neidell M. Effects of a prekindergarten educational intervention on adult health: 37-Year follow-up results of a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Public Health. 2009;99(8):1431-1437.
9 Englund 2015 - Englund MM, White B, Reynolds AJ, Schweinhart LJ, Campbell FA. Health outcomes of the Abecedarian, Child–Parent Center, and HighScope Perry Preschool programs. In Reynolds AJ, Rolnick AJ, Temple JA, eds. Health and Education in Early Childhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2015:257-292.
10 Xie 2020 - Xie Y, Near C, Xu H, Song X. Heterogeneous treatment effects on children's cognitive/non-cognitive skills: A reevaluation of an influential early childhood intervention. Social Science Research. 2020;86:102389.
11 NBER-Heckman 2019 - Heckman JJ, Karapakula G. Intergenerational and intragenerational externalities of the Perry Preschool Project. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2019: Working Paper 25889.
12 Belknap 2014 - Belknap E, Hazler R. Empty playgrounds and anxious children. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. 2014;9(2):210-231.
13 Weikart 1970 - Weikart DP. Longitudinal Results of the Ypsilanti Perry Preschool Project. Final Report. Volume II of 2 Volumes. Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Educational Research Foundation, Ypsilanti Public Schools; 1970.
14 Derman-Sparks 2016 - Derman-Sparks L. What I learned from the Ypsilanti Perry Preschool Project: A teacher’s reflections. Journal of Pedagogy. 2016;7(1):93-106.
15 Mathematica-Caronongan 2016 - Caronongan P, Kirby G, Boller K, Modlin E, Lyskawa J. Assessing the implementation and cost of high quality early care and education: A review of the literature - OPRE Report 2016-31. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation; 2016.
16 Heckman 2010a - Heckman JJ, Moon SH, Pinto R, Savelyev PA, Yavitz A. The rate of return to the HighScope Perry preschool program. Journal of Public Economics. 2010;94(1-2):114-28.
17 NBER-Garcia 2021 - García JL, Bennhoff F, Leaf DE, Heckman J. The dynastic benefits of early childhood education. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2021: Working Paper 29004.
18 HighScope - HighScope. Inspiring educators to inspire children.
19 Duncan 2013 - Duncan GJ, Sojourner AJ. Can intensive early childhood intervention programs eliminate income-based cognitive and achievement gaps? Journal of Human Resources. 2013;48(4):945-968.
20 RAND-Karoly 2016 - Karoly LA, Auger A. Informing investments in preschool quality and access in Cincinnati: Evidence of impacts and economic returns from national, state, and local preschool programs. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2016.
21 US Courts-BvBE - United States Courts, Administrative Office of the US Courts. Supreme Court landmarks in history: Brown v. Board of Education (BvBE) re-enactment.
22 EPI-Rothstein 2014 - Rothstein R. Brown v. Board at 60: Why have we been so disappointed? What have we learned? Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute (EPI); 2014.
23 NPR-Domonoske 2016 - Domonoske C. After 50-year legal struggle, Mississippi school district ordered to desegregate. National Public Radio (NPR). 2016.
24 NHSA-Head Start history - National Head Start Association (NHSA). Black history month: A reflection on Head Start history.
25 JHU-Dickinson 2016 - Dickinson EE. Coleman Report set the standard for the study of public education. Johns Hopkins Magazine. 2016.
26 Economic Opportunities Act - Public Law 88-452. Senate (S) 2642: Economic Opportunities Act of 1964.
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