Writing today in Eureka Street, Daniel Donahoo makes a key pointÂ about the difference between universal and targeted early childhood intervention. Key quote:
At the centre of the discussion is the name Dr James Heckman. Heckman was the Nobel Laureate for Economics in 2000. His work extends across human capital and productivity. He is interested in lifelong learning and this led him to research early childhood development.
It is his research into investment into early childhood development that has produced the paraphrase, ‘for every dollar invested into the early years of a child’s life, we save up to ‘x’ dollars in the long run’.
This is one of the most misunderstood and misused quotes I have come across in my time as a researcher. It is littered through the ALP’s child and family policy documents. It is used by a vast number of early childhood professionals and advocates and used as a sound byte regularly by the media.
But it is being used incorrectly. No one appears to recognise the context in which Heckman made that statement.
The claim is based on an intensive research project and longitudinal studies from the United States. These studies, such as the Perry School Study, take young disadvantaged children and put them in early childhood development programs run by tertiary educated professionals at low child-teacher ratios for up to 40 hours a week until they start school.
The studies demonstrated that children in the intensive early childhood programs had substantially improved their opportunities and outcomes in later life. They were less likely to commit crime, more likely to finish high school, would earn more and so on.
In fact, for each dollar invested in those children, Heckman has established the government saves seven to nine dollars by the time they reach adulthood. In the Perry School Study, most of these returns came from reduced crime â€” a factor that won’t apply to middle class Australian children.
Heckman’s research targets children living in significant disadvantage. As a result, his conclusions are only relevant for children in similar target groups.
Even recently, in his 2007 paper titled ‘The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children’, Heckman and co-author Dimitriy V. Masterov conclude that while the research highlights a need for greater investment in disadvantaged children, ‘none of this evidence supports universal preschool programs’.