Major Moments in the History of the Perry Preschool


David Weikart gets a job as director of special services for the public schools in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He is still finishing his Ph.D. in education and psychology at the University of Michigan.


Psychologist J. McVicker Hunt publishes an influential book called "Intelligence and Experience." It challenges the widely-held notion that intelligence is a genetic, predetermined trait. Hunt argues that intelligence develops; early environments and experiences make a difference. David Weikart cites Hunt's book as an influence in starting the Perry Preschool. The book is also an influence in the founding of Head Start four years later.


Dr. Susan Gray starts an "Early Training Project" in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It's a summer preschool program for 60 African American children. One goal is to raise IQ. The idea of early childhood "education" is new. Kindergarten still does not exist in 32 states.


The first day of the Perry Preschool is in October. The goal is to prevent school failure, raise IQ.


The Ford Foundation sponsors a 10-week trial preschool program for fifteen 4-year-olds in New Haven, Connecticut.


President Lyndon Johnson calls for a "War on Poverty" in his State of the Union address in January. "Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it," the president says.


Sargent Shriver, director of President Lyndon Johnson's Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), nearly "falls off his chair" looking at a pie chart that shows nearly half the nation's 30 million poor people are children. "It was clear that it was foolish to talk about a [war against poverty] ... if you were doing nothing about children." (source: Zigler, p5)


Sargent Shriver lays out the "facts of poverty" to a platform committee at the 1964 Democratic convention in August. He promises that Johnson will invest in early education.


Lady Bird Johnson holds a White House tea to kick off a new program called Head Start. There's a lot of public excitement. The idea that Head Start will boost IQ begins to circulate despite concern among supporters that IQ gains are not a good measure of success.


At a Rose Garden ceremony in May, President Johnson launches Head Start: "This program this year means that 30 million man-years - the combined lifespan of these youngsters - will be spent productively and rewardingly, rather than wasted in tax-supported institutions or in welfare-supported lethargy."


Head Start begins. It's an eight-week summer program that serves about 560,000 poor, mostly African American children.


The Bureau of the Budget issues a bulletin in October that requires every federal agency to establish a central office for program analysis. There is pressure on Head Start and other War on Poverty programs to produce measurable results.


Research on the first summer of Head Start is published showing IQ gains of 10 points. Sargent Shriver declares that Head Start is OEO's "greatest measurable success." Head Start expands to a school-year program.


Sociologist James Coleman's report on educational equality in the United States is published. It becomes known as the "Coleman Report." It concludes that the quality of a school accounts for very little of the difference in achievement between groups of students. The report says the main factor determining school performance is the socioeconomic status of a child's home. It concludes there is little schools can do to reverse "poverty-induced" handicaps. Some policymakers take this as evidence that programs like Head Start are a waste of money.


Responding to building pressure to justify spending on Head Start, the evaluation division at OEO commissions a large study to determine the cognitive benefits of Head Start.


Richard Nixon is elected president. He supported Head Start during his campaign.


Psychologist Arthur Jensen writes an influential article in the Harvard Educational Review called "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" He concludes that Head Start programs designed to boost African American IQ scores have failed and that IQ gaps between blacks and whites can probably never be remedied because intelligence is largely an inherited trait.


The Westinghouse Study of Head Start is released. The study finds that initial IQ gains from Head Start "fade out" after a few years. Nixon says Head Start should probably start earlier in life and last longer to have enduring benefits.


The first results from the Perry Preschool are published. Data shows the children who went to preschool did better on IQ tests until age 7, but then IQ differences "fade out" the way they did with Head Start children.


David Weikart quits his job with the Ypsilanti Public Schools and sets up the HighScope Educational Research Foundation to continue the Perry Study.


The Carolina Abecedarian Project begins.


The Consortium of Longitudinal Studies is founded to assess the long-term impact of early education on children from low-income families. The Consortium is made up of early childhood investigators independently conducting experimental preschool programs. Perry Preschool founder David Weikart is a member.


Results of the Perry Preschool Program through age 10 are released. They show that children who went to the preschool were less likely to be held back a grade or placed in special education.


The Consortium for Longitudinal Studies publishes a study on 12 preschool programs. The study shows these programs significantly reduced grade retention and placement in special education classes. Two of these programs are Head Start programs; the others are more expensive "model" programs, including the Perry Preschool.


Results of the Perry Preschool through age 15 are released. Children who went to the preschool program are doing better in school, even though their IQ scores are still no higher than those of their peers.


Ronald Reagan wins the presidency. His election is widely regarded as a "death knell" for many federally funded programs for children.


A week after President Reagan is sworn in, he includes Head Start in a "safety net" of social programs that will not be cut.


President Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education releases a report called A Nation at Risk. It's a landmark event in the history and politics of American education reform. The report documents how the educational system is failing to meet the national need for a competitive workforce. The report sparks a wave of school reform efforts at the local, state and federal levels.


Results of the Perry Preschool through age 19 are released. Major findings including lower crime rates among the people who went to preschool.


Study of the long-term effects of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers begins.


The largest single funding increase ever approved for Head Start is pushed through Congress under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush.


The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching releases a national survey of kindergarten teachers. The teachers emphasize the importance of attributes like enthusiasm and curiosity and knowing how to take turns; they say these are the things children need to be ready for kindergarten. They do not emphasize knowledge of specific "academic" skills.


The Perry Preschool results through age 27 are released. Significant findings include lower crime rates and higher earnings. The researchers conclude that the program did not have a long-term impact on intellectual ability; instead, the program led to "improved motivation" and "changed life patterns."


U.S. Government Accountability Office report concludes there is "insufficient" research to determine Head Start's impact.


The National Research Council releases a landmark study called Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. It argues that children who have not mastered certain pre-literacy skills before they enter kindergarten are "at risk" of failure. The report concludes that: "Preschools and other group care settings for young children, including those at risk for reading difficulties, too often constitute poor language and literacy environments."


Congress directs Head Start to implement an assessment system and measure whether programs are succeeding at teaching certain academic skills.


Results of the Carolina Abecedarian Project through age 21 are released. Children who received the preschool treatment had higher average tests scores and were twice as likely to have attended a four-year college than children who did not.


Arthur Reynolds publishes a book on the long-term impact of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers. It finds that children who went to preschool had higher levels of school achievement, fewer behavior problems in school, lower rates of grade retention and special education, and lower juvenile crime rates.


Economist Jim Heckman publishes the first of many papers on the Perry Preschool results. A few months later, he wins a Nobel Prize for some earlier work on econometrics.


Head Start institutes new guidelines to place more emphasis on cognitive skill development.


The Pew Charitable Trusts begins a major effort to advocate for the expansion of public preschool across the nation.


President George W. Bush signs the new "No Child Left Behind" law requiring widespread cognitive skill testing in the nation's schools.


The National Institute for Early Education Research is established.


Federal Reserve economists Arthur Rolnick and Rob Grunewald publish a paper touting a 16 percent "rate of return" from the Perry Preschool, more than twice the historic returns on the stock market.


Perry Preschool founder David Weikart dies in December.


The results of the Perry Preschool program through age 40 are published. Economist Jim Heckman is one of the peer reviewers. He writes: "This report substantially bolsters the case for early interventions in disadvantaged populations. More than 35 years after they received an enriched preschool program, the Perry Preschool participants achieve much greater success in social and economic life than their counterparts who are randomly denied treatment."


The Partnership for America's Economic Success is established to organize business leaders behind a push to expand preschool education in the United States.


The State of Preschool 2008 is published. It finds that 80 percent of all 4-year-olds attend some kind of preschool program. About half of those are in some kind of public program. States are spending $4.6 billion on public preschool, nearly double the amount they were spending five years earlier.


The new Obama administration says investing in early childhood education will be a top priority. The president supports a seamless and comprehensive set of services and support for children, from birth through age 5.

Back to Early Lessons.

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