Advancement Project Closing the Opportunity Gap

Why ECE Matters Children Who Start Behind, Stay Behind

Definition of early care and education (ECE).Early care and education programs are crucial to preparing our children for success in the K-12 system, and help close the achievement gap as it first begins to form. In cost-benefit analyses, economists have found high-quality early childhood education offers one of the highest returns of any public investment – more than $7 for every dollar spent (Heckman, 2012).

National research shows that children who attend high-quality preschool programs:

  • Perform better on standardized tests in reading and math
  • Are less likely to be placed in special education
  • Are less likely to be held back a grade
  • Are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college

Young girl coloring with crayonsToo many young children enter kindergarten unprepared, but high quality early learning experiences can help. On average, children who participate in high-quality ECE programs gain about a third of a year of additional learning across language, reading, and math skills (Yoshikawa et al, 2013). Conversely, children who received low-quality care in their first 4.5 years exhibited academic and behavioral problems that persisted to age 15, a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found (Vandell et al., 2010).

High-needs children fall further behind their higher-income peers academically even before kindergarten. The readiness gap is especially apparent in their vocabulary development – at age three, low-income children have heard 30 million less words than their higher-income peers (Hart and Risley, 2003).