WASHINGTON — More than 20 years later, educational attainment is higher and felony arrests are lower for the alumni of a Chicago early-intervention program for low-income children.
The enrollees, who are now in their late 20s, are also less likely to describe themselves as depressed and more likely to have health insurance, according to a follow-up study released this week.
According to co-author Arthur J. Reynolds, a child-development professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the gains in terms of reduced social-welfare costs already have far exceeded the program's $5,000 per student-year cost to the Chicago public school system.
"By the time they're 65, a conservative estimate would be a 10-to-1 gain," Reynolds said, considering reduced societal costs for remedial education, health care, incarceration and underemployment.
The findings, which appear in this month's issue of the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Medical Association, are the first to affirm the long-term value of a large public early-childhood enrichment program.
Chicago's Child-Parent Center program was — and is — more intense than Head Start, the main federal assistance program for low-income children and their families.
Since 1967, Child-Parent Centers in neighborhood schools have provided comprehensive education, health, job and family services throughout the school year for kids and their parents. Most children begin the program at age 3 or 4, and can receive help until they're in the second or third grade. Its teachers have four-year college degrees and special training in early childhood education, and parents are expected to participate in classrooms and on field trips.
The cost was about $2,000 more per pupil, according to Reynolds, than the full-time regular kindergarten and Head Start programs that a comparable sample of kids attended. All lived in the poorest school district on Chicago's West Side.
The survey of 1,539 Child-Parent Center alumni found them to be doing better in these ways:
_ High school completion: 71 percent, vs. 62 percent for nonparticipants.
_ Felony arrests: 17 percent, vs. 21 percent for nonparticipants.
_ Incarceration: 21 percent, vs. 26 percent.
_ Full-time employment: 43 percent, vs. 36 percent
_ Self-described symptoms of depression: 13 percent, vs. 17 percent.
_ Health insurance: 70 percent are covered, vs. 62 percent of nonparticipants.
"These results have profound and encouraging implications for our ability to close the achievement gap" among disadvantaged children, said Gordon Berlin, the president of MDRC, a New York nonprofit agency that identifies social policy strategies that work.
"Head Start's impacts have been positive but not as big as people would have hoped," Berlin said. "This study begins to answer the question of whether a high-quality intervention could fortify Head Start and other early-childhood interventions, and power bigger results."
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a unit of the National Institutes of Health, paid for the study.
Lorraine Sullivan, the Chicago Public Schools subdistrict superintendent for the West Side, devised and sold city officials on the original souped-up early intervention program. Federal education aid pays for it.