It has been held as a belief in education that the earlier a child who shows at risk factors is involved in an early preschool experience, the better the outcome in school for that child. This seems particularly true for a child living in poverty who is also in a minority group.
The Perry Preschool Project for high risk children was started in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1962 based on the premise that these children could be helped. They set out to prove it using a unique experimental design. The driving force behind this school was David Weikart who was the creator of the High Scope preschool curriculum. The Perry Preschool Project used only the High Scope curriculum in the school and required the parents to participate in at home visits.
The Perry Preschool Project
The project was concerned with several factors related to student success in school. One factor was poverty, "Poor children run a high risk of failure in school" (Jenck, Smith et al., 1972; White, 1976, Note 4,) particularly when they are black" (Coleman, Campbell et al., 1966). The Perry Preschool Project studied two groups of children. The first group, the experimental group, received a preschool education for 1-2 years. The second group, the control group, received no preschool education. The two groups were studied for two decades. This paper will report findings for the children when they were between 12 and 15 years of age.
"The first criterion for selection was that parents reported a low socioeconomic status. The second criterion for selection was that the children's IQs, tested at project entry by the Stanford-Binet Scale, were in the range of 70 to 85." (p. 17) About half of the two groups received welfare assistance and about half were from single parent households. The poorest 123 children were included in this study.
The children came into the project in 5 waves. Each wave was one year younger than the preceding wave. The oldest children, born in 1958 were wave zero, the youngest born in 1962 were wave four. Younger siblings were assigned to the same group as their older siblings to ensure that the education received in the experimental group would not have an indirect effect on the control group through the mother's participation. Each year the children in the experiment were placed in "either the experimental group or the control group in such a way as to equate groups on the basis of initial cognitive ability, sex ratios, and average socioeconomic status of the groups." (p. 21) Great care was taken to make sure the groups were as alike as possible. The children attended preschool for 12 1/2 hours per week (weekday mornings) and received home visits with their mothers 1 1/2 hours per week. The program lasted from October to May. The first wave received 1 year, the other waves received two years.
"The goal of the Perry Preschool's educational program was to help children acquire the intellectual strengths they would need in school." (p. 22) The data collected show the children involved in the Perry Preschool Project did in fact "show improvement in the cognitive ability at school entry indicated by their increased IQs during kindergarten and first grade as well as improved school achievement shown by higher achievement test scores in elementary school and 8th grade." (p. 31) They also showed a more highly rated social development and fewer years spent in special education programs. These children (now youths) also played sports, helped with chores at home, read for pleasure and made friends easily. Most said they would go to their parents with any problems. Twenty-nine percent held after school jobs as compared to the control group of which only sixteen percent.
The Perry Preschool Project appears to have been a great success as an early intervention model. Although the goal of the program was "to contribute to the intellectual development of each child," (p. 63) lasting effects were also reported. An early intervention preschool is not enough to save a disadvantaged child from the circumstances in which he is raised but it can go a long way in laying a foundation for future success in his life.
Schweinhart, L.J. and Weikart, D.P. (1980). Young Children Grow Up: The Effects of the Perry Preschool Program on Youths through Age 15. Ypsilanti, Michigan: The High Scope Press.
Author or Authors
The original author of this document is Sherry DeHoog.