Real Economic Development

Early Childhood Intervention on a Large Scale

Arthur Rolnick, senior fellow and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, says that careful academic research demonstrates that tax dollars spent on early childhood development provide extraordinary returns compared with investments in the public, and even private, sector. Some of these benefits are private gains for the children involved, in the form of higher wages later in life. But the broader economy also benefits because individuals who participate in high-quality early childhood development programs have greater skills than they otherwise would, and they’re able to contribute productively to their local economies.

These findings, promising though they are, pose a challenge: small-scale early childhood development programs have been shown to work, but can their success be reproduced on a much larger scale? There are reasons to be skeptical; some recent attempts at scaling up early childhood development have been disappointing. But based on a careful review of past and current programs, Rolnick believes that large-scale efforts can succeed if they incorporate four key features:

  • Careful focus,
  • Parental involvement,
  • Outcome orientation, and
  • Long-term commitment.

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