How a Nobel Prize-winning economist became an advocate for preschool

Nov 28, 2012

There's a growing consensus that more needs to be done to prepare children for kindergarten. 

But does preschool really have a significant impact on the lives of children? State of Opportunity's Dustin Dwyer recently sat down with economist James Heckman to find out.

Heckman started his career studying the labor market. In 2000 he won the Nobel Prize for his research. But in recent years, Heckman has become known for his research into preschool. 

What caused this shift?

Heckman wanted to know whether there was any way to really improve a person's chances in the labor market. His previous research showed that worker re-training programs didn't do much. Then he came across results from a project in Ypsilanti, called Perry Preschool

The project brought in three and four year olds from high poverty homes and gave them a comprehensive preschool experience. 

The project garnered national attention for its findings, some good and some not-so-good.

Heckman found preschool had no long-term effect on the IQ of children. By the age of 10 children who were enrolled in preschool had about the same IQ as those who did not enroll.

But, later in life, the children in Perry Preschool had huge advantages. Perry preschoolers were more likely to be employed and make more money as adults than children who weren't enrolled.

To hear more about the project's findings and to learn more about Heckman's current work, visit State of Opportunity.

- Jordan Medina, Michigan Radio Newsroom