The Perry School Project: Landmark Findings

June 7th, 2019 | by SRC

At SRC, our vision is to activate all children’s potential to create a just society. We believe that every child deserves a high-quality early learning experience.

Researchers, politicians and advocates from all realms have touted the educational, social, and potential financial benefits of early childhood education. Many promote the return on investment for creating these opportunities for our youngest learners. In May, the latest findings from the landmark Perry Preschool Project validated just that. Significant benefits and economic gains were found in participants’ midlife; and, interestingly enough, these benefits extended to their children indicating the potential multi-generational effects of high-quality ECE.

The Perry Preschool project began in the early to mid-1960s with a sample of African American three-year-old children who were identified as coming from “disadvantaged” backgrounds in Ypsilanti, Michigan. At the time, researchers defined disadvantaged as “measured by an index of socioeconomic status based on parental employment level, parental education, and housing density (persons per room).” At SRC, we know that the indicators used to define “disadvantaged” cannot be examined without placing them in the historical context of systemic racial and economic oppression. The Perry School Project was an effort to address some of these effects. To do this, starting at age three, the children who attended the Perry Preschool were supplemented with weekly home visits from teachers. Following, data were collected from the participants at various points in their lives including the most recent follow up at age 55.

Highlights from the findings included:

  • Economic gains and upward mobility in the Perry Preschool participants
  • Significant increases in participants’ education, health, full-time employment, and reduced interactions with the criminal legal system as compared to the control group
  • Perry preschool participants’ children were more likely to experience similar education, hea
    lth and employment gains as their parents, despite living in similar neighborhoods as the children of the control group

While considering some of the limitations in comparing this monumental study to our current climate, its findings are still notable and further fuel the ongoing and increasing efforts to expand high-quality early childhood education, particularly for children impacted by the legacy of racial and economic oppression. In fact, the authors of the Perry Preschool Project assert that based on their findings, investments in high-quality early childhood education can serve as an effective tool in combating inter- and multigenerational poverty (Heckman, 2019).

Birth through 8 investments, like those supported in this study, are so critical to our work at SRC. We stand grounded in our vision to activate all children’s potential through a just society and work daily to collaborate with partners to transform early learning and mitigate the systemic inequities that exist, starting at birth.


Written by Aisha Pittman, School Readiness Consulting


References and Resources

Heckman, James, and Ganesh Karapakula. “The Perry Preschoolers at Late Midlife: A Study in Design-Specific Inference.” (2019)

Heckman, James. “Early Childhood education strengthens families and can break the cycle of poverty.” (2019)

Perry Toolkit Materials


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