In my previous article I discussed, generally, how increased education spending can translate into improved outcomes for communities through reduced criminality. I would like to spend a bit more time unpacking this idea and looking at where efforts have been demonstrated to be effective.
To begin we can look at two outstanding studies in early childhood education. The first is the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS). This study began in 1986 by providing high quality pre-k for low-income and predominately minority children in Chicago. Researchers have tracked the roughly 1,500 students through parent, teacher and participant annual surveys. Findings indicate, as a whole, society received a return on investment of $7.10 per dollar spent with $2.88 per dollar in government savings alone. These savings came as a result of improved outcomes for the students when compared with a control group. The 2001 executive summary reports participants had a 29% higher rate of high school completion, a 33% lower rate of juvenile arrest, a 42% reduction in arrest for a violent offense, a 41% reduction in special education placement, a 40% reduction in the rate of grade retention, and a 51% reduction in child maltreatment.
“Relative to the comparison group, preschool participants had a 29% higher rate of high school completion, a 33% lower rate of juvenile arrest, a 42% reduction in arrest for a violent offense.”
The second is the HighScope Perry Preschool operated in Ypsilanti Michigan from 1962-1967. In the study, 123 low-income minority families were randomly assigned to either the HighScope curriculum or a control group. As with the CLS above, the students were tracked over the years with the most recent follow-up occurring at age 40 (37 years after program completion). The results are impressive. The rates of high school graduation are 73.2% for the pre-school group compared with 54% for the control group. Additionally, the data indicates that, by age 40, the preschool group is 10% more likely to own a home, 13% more likely to own a car and 25% more likely to have a savings account. The rate of mortality by age 40 is 3.4% in the pre-school group versus 7.7% for the control.
This all translates into a significant return for society. Utilizing a 7% discount rate, the return on the per student cost of $14,367 is an astonishing $81,395 ($67,028 net gain). This equates to $5.67 for every dollar spent. The overwhelming component contributing to these returns are the savings related to the reduction in criminal activity totaling $69,758 per student.
There is strong evidence supporting public investment in early education
School ‘Climate’ and High School Completion
Several studies have demonstrated school climate has significant impacts on high school dropout rates. Comprehensive review of current and historical research indicates there are 4 major factors contributing to the concept of school climate: safety, teaching & learning, relationships and environmental-structural. School climate is strongly predictive of suspension rates and drop-out rates.
A study published in 2007 examining 196 Kentucky high schools found that schools reporting the lowest drop-out rates had significant differences in climate measures from those schools reporting the highest drop-out rates. A report produced for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation interviewed 467 individuals between 16-24 years old which had dropped out of high school to explore the reasons for choosing to drop out. These interviews indicated the complexity of contributing factors but found school climate was tremendously important.
When asked what schools could have done to intervene, 68 percent cited “keeping students from skipping classes,” 62 percent “maintaining classroom discipline,” and 57 percent “helping students feel safe from violence.”
Of those interviewed, 47% reported finding school boring and 69% indicated they were unmotivated. This disengagement is evident in the high rates of absenteeism prior to dropping out. When asked what schools could have done to intervene, 68 percent cited “keeping students from skipping classes,” 62 percent “maintaining classroom discipline,” and 57 percent “helping students feel safe from violence.” These statistics start to paint the picture of schools struggling to provide enough contact and supervision to meet the needs of at-risk students.
The Mediating Effects of Positive School Environments
Just as poor school climate can drive borderline students to dropout a positive environment can encourage students to complete high school. The Wallace Foundation, reporting 6 years of findings, indicates that one of the primary drivers of a school’s success is the leaderships’ (principal) influence on teachers’ motivation and working conditions. Furthermore, truly effective leaders were those able to enhance student achievement by including teachers, parents and students in decision making. Strong leaders in public schools improves the motivation of teachers and students alike. These factors contribute significantly to the success of students.
Researchers report increased sense of connection with school predicted improved academic performance and reduced dropouts. Furthermore, they find less criminal activity and drug/alcohol/tobacco use as well as.
When students feel connected to their school they achieve more. ‘Connectedness’ is a strong predictor of several outcomes. In 2004 the Social Development Research Group at University of Washington published a review of findings related school ‘connectedness.’ In this review the researchers report increased sense of connection with school predicted improved academic performance and reduced dropouts. Furthermore, they find less criminal activity and drug/alcohol/tobacco use as well as.
When we recognize the tremendous value added to our community by effective public education institutions we can see just how vital the job of fostering this positive school climate is when moving forward. The day to day responsibility of this work falls to the principals and teachers in our schools. We must compensate these professionals according to the true value they bring to our communities. Instead, Wisconsin’s underfunded schools are struggling to retain and hire educators.