Programs that Work
HighScope Perry Preschool Program
Healthy and Safe Children
Children Ready for School
Children Succeeding in School
Students performing at grade level or meeting state curriculum standards
Students graduating from high school
Children ages 0 to 5 exhibiting age-appropriate mental and physical development
Children and youth not engaging in violent behavior or displaying serious conduct problems
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Type of Setting
Child Care / Preschool
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Poverty / Welfare
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
The HighScope Perry Preschool Curriculum, an early childhood education program, is an open framework of educational ideas and practices based on the natural development of young children. Drawing on the child development theories of Jean Piaget (Piaget and Inhelder, 1969) and Lev Vygotsky (1934), the progressive educational philosophy of John Dewey (1938), and more recent work in cognitive-developmental psychology (e.g., Clements, 2004; Gelman and Brenneman, 2004; National Research Council 2005) and brain research (Shore, 1997; Thompson and Nelson, 2001), the program recognizes children as active learners, who learn best from activities that they themselves plan, carry out, and reflect on. Adults use complex language, as appropriate, as they observe, support, and extend the work of the child. Adults arrange interest areas in the learning environment; maintain a daily routine that permits children to plan, carry out, and reflect on their own activities; and join in children's activities, engaging in conversations that scaffold and extend children's plans and help them think through their ideas. The adults encourage children to make choices, solve problems, and otherwise engage in curriculum activities that contribute to their learning on key developmental indicators that encompass all areas of intellectual, social, and physical development.
The HighScope Perry Preschool Program, conducted from 1962 to 1967, was provided to 3- and 4-year-old African-American children from low-income neighborhoods in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The teachers conducted daily classroom sessions for two and one-half hours on weekday mornings for children and weekly home visits to each mother and child for one and one-half hours on weekday afternoons during the course of a 30-week school year. The home visits were intended to involve the mother in the educational process and to help her to provide her child with education support and implement the curriculum within the child’s home. The Perry Preschool Program researchers have followed the children from the initial study for four decades.
The HighScope Perry Preschool Program study involved 123 African-American children ages 3 to 4 with IQs between 70 and 85 (between one and two standard deviations below the mean) from families of low socioeconomic status. Children with diagnosed physical handicaps were excluded. All participants were drawn from the geographic area from which children attended the Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Researchers from the HighScope Educational Foundation (Schweinhart et al., 2005; Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984, Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993) have been conducting a long-term study of the impact of participation in the Perry Preschool Program. The program utilized the HighScope Perry Preschool curriculum. Staff of the Perry Preschool Program identified children for the longitudinal study from a census of the families of students then attending Perry Elementary School, referrals by neighborhood groups, and door-to-door canvassing. All selected families were of low socioeconomic status and had children showing low intellectual performance as measured by the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale Test at program entry. At the time of entry, the mothers had completed an average of 9.7 years of schooling, and the fathers had completed an average of 8.0 years of schooling. Forty-seven percent of the families were in single-parent households, and 40 percent of the parents were unemployed. Forty-nine percent of the households were on welfare.
Children from entering families were matched on initial IQ test scores, mean socioeconomic status, and the percentage of boys versus girls. One student in each matched pair was then assigned to the treatment or control condition. Children from the same family were assigned to the same treatment status. The total study population consisted of 123 children—58 in the program group and 65 in the control group. When participants were 15 years old, socioeconomic data (such as parental educational and occupational achievement and population mobility) on the control and program groups were collected to determine whether the groups were still characteristically similar. Differences across the two groups were controlled for in the analysis. Over time, attrition in the study sample has been low, with a 9 percent attrition rate for the age-40 (37-year) follow-up.
Researchers assessed the status of the two groups annually from ages 3 to 12 and at ages 14, 15, 19, 27, and 40. Information was collected via a variety of methods, including through an examination of school records; standardized testing; aptitude testing; juvenile, police, and court records; life competency testing; and interviews to reveal personal characteristics, abilities, attitudes, and social relations, among other things.
Key Evaluation Findings
Scholastic and Cognitive Outcomes
- Program participants scored significantly higher on nonverbal intellectual performance tests at the end of their first preschool year (a group average score of 97.0 versus 72.0 for the control group) and second preschool year (89.8 versus 77.9). In subsequent years, the control population narrowed this gap; however, the program participant group continued to maintain a slight edge, and the difference again achieved statistical significance at age 9, the final year of this type of testing, with the program group scoring 89.3 and the control group scoring 84.8 (Weikart et al., 1970)
- Program participants significantly outscored their control counterparts on vocabulary tests at the end of the first preschool year (a group average score of 74.5 versus 63.6 for the control group) and the second preschool year (81.0 versus 62.9). The program group maintained a slight edge in subsequent years; however, the difference was not significant (Weikart et al., 1970).
- Program participants' high school grade-point averages were significantly higher than those of the control group (2.08 versus 1.71), and control students received nearly twice as many failing grades per year as did their program counterparts (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- Perry participants spent a significantly lower percentage of all their years of education in special education (16 percent for program participants versus 28 percent for control students), and participation in the program reduced the likelihood of being classified as mentally retarded by more than half (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- Perry participants spent a significantly higher percentage of all their years of education receiving remedial services (such as speech/language services) other than special education services (8 percent for program participants versus 3 percent for the control population) (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- Program participants at age 14 significantly outscored their control counterparts in the total score and all subtests of the California Achievement Tests. The effect size for each of the score differences was moderate to large (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1980).
- Program students gave a positive response more frequently than did control students on 14 of 16 items measuring the students' attitudes toward high school (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- On the age-19 Adult Performance Level Survey (APL), the program group significantly outscored the control group in general literacy (which indicates total score), occupational knowledge, health information, and reading skills. On the age-27 APL survey, the program group significantly outscored the control group in health information and problem-solving but not general literacy. This is reflective of larger gains in general literacy among the control population as compared with the program participant group (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- By age 27, the program group had completed a significantly higher level of schooling than had the control group (11.9 years for the program group versus 11.0 years for the control group) and had a sizably higher rate of high school graduation, or its equivalent, than did the control participants. Seventy-one percent of program participants versus 54 percent of control participants had earned a high school diploma or General Educational Development Test (GED) (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- The group differences in levels of schooling completed and high school graduation rates are due to differences between females in the two groups. By age 27, as compared with control females, program females completed a significantly higher level of schooling (12.5 years versus 10.5 years) and had a significantly higher rate of regular high school graduation or its equivalent (84 percent versus 35 percent). (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- A significantly higher percentage of program students were working at the time of their age-19 follow-up interview (50 percent of program students versus 32 percent of control students) (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- The control population had spent, on average, twice as many months without work since leaving school than had the program population (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- Program participants were nearly twice as likely to be economically self-sufficient and nearly half as likely to be receiving money from welfare at the time of the age-19 follow-up interview (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- At ages 27 and 40, program participants had higher average monthly earnings than nonparticipants ($1,020 versus $700 at age 27 and $1,856 versus $1,308 at age 40) (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993; Schweinhart et al., 2005).
- At age 27 there were no significant differences between the groups in terms of employment over the previous five years or in months of unemployment in the previous two years (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- At age 27, a significantly lower percentage of program males had received social services (such as welfare assistance services and public housing) in the previous ten years (52 percent of program males versus 77 percent of control males) (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- Nearly three times as many program participants owned their own homes at age 27 (36 percent versus 13 percent of the control population) (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- At age 19, as a group, the program population had a total of 47 property or violence arrests versus 74 such arrests among the control population (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- At age 19, program participants were half as likely to have been arrested for a non-minor offense (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- At age 19, program participants were nearly half as likely to have been involved in a serious fight, caused someone an injury requiring medical attention, or have been in trouble with the police. The control population was more than twice as likely to have been involved in a group or gang fight (Berrueta-Clement et al., 1984).
- By age 27, as compared with the control group, the program participants averaged a significantly lower number of lifetime arrests (2.3 versus 4.6) and a significantly lower number of adult arrests (1.8 versus 4.0) (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- By age 27, 7 percent of program participants versus 35 percent of control participants had been arrested five or more times in their lifetimes (Schweinhart, Barnes, and Weikart, 1993).
- At age 40, 36 percent of participants versus 55 percent of nonparticipants were arrested five or more times (Schweinhart et al., 2005).
- At age 40, program participants were more likely to be insured than were nonparticipants, and this insurance coverage led to an increase in the utilization of preventive health services; however, there were no significant differences in any measured physical health outcomes (Muennig et al., 2009).
Preschool teachers, planners, directors, and administrators.
The Ford Foundation and the U.S. Administration of Children, Youth, and Families funded the Perry Preschool Program and the longitudinal study of program participants. Additional funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Rosenberg Foundation, the Levi-Strauss Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Spencer Foundation, and the Robert McCormick Tribune Foundation.
Current program funding comes from a variety of sources including student tuition fees, foundation grants, federal Head Start monies, and funds from state and local governments.
Cost savings analyses of the program (Barnett, 1996; and Karoly et al., 1998 and 2001) have shown that over the lifetime of the participants, the Perry Preschool Program saves the government considerably more than the program originally cost.
The Perry Program emphasizes active learning, in which children learn through self-initiated and directed activities. This framework uses a set of key developmental indicators derived from child development theory. These indicators help teachers support and extend children's activities, as well as monitor their progress. The key developmental indicators are important to the growth of rational thought in children throughout the world, regardless of nation or culture. These indicators are very simple and pragmatic. Preschool key developmental indicators have been identified in the following domains, which parallel the dimensions of school readiness identified by the National Education Goals Panel (Kagan, Moore, and Bredekamp, 1995): approaches to learning; language, literacy, and communication; social and emotional development; physical development, health, and well being; mathematics; science and technology; social studies; and the arts. Each of these categories is divided into specific types of experiences. For example, the key developmental indicators in language, literacy, and communication are "talking with others about personally meaningful experiences"; "describing objects, events, and relations"; "having fun with language by listening to stories and poems and making up stories and rhymes"; "writing in various ways: drawing, scribbling, and using letter-like forms, invented spellings, and conventional forms"; "reading in various ways: reading storybooks, signs, symbols, and one's own writing"; and "dictating stories."
The role of adults in the Perry Program model is to observe, guide, support, and help to extend the children's activities by arranging and equipping a variety of interest areas within the learning environment, maintaining a daily routine that permits children to plan and carry out their own activities, and joining in with children's activities as active participants and helping children to think about their play. The curriculum does not teach predefined lessons, but instead teachers listen closely to what students plan and then actively work with and question them to extend their activities to developmentally appropriate experiences.
In addition to the classroom-based activities, throughout the school year the program included a weekly home-visit component by Perry Preschool classroom teachers. This component was intended to involve and integrate parents into their children's educational activities, and to promote the use of the program's methods within the home environment.
The program uses the HighScope Curriculum as recently described in HighScope publications, especially Epstein (2007) and Hohmann, Weikart, & Epstein (2008).
The program as evaluated was staffed by teachers certified to teach in elementary, early childhood, or special education settings. The Perry Preschool Program had a teacher-to-student ratio of one teacher for every 5.7 students.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "proven" rating. It had rigorous evaluation standards, including a randomized experimental design and longitudinal follow-up, and the participants experienced significant and sizeable gains. The small sample size involved in this study is often cited as a study weakness. This concern is countered by the many large group differences that were found favoring the program group. It is also countered to some extent, by the high level of internal consistency in data over the years, the low level of attrition in the longitudinal sample, the existence of long-term longitudinal data, the rigorous standards of true random assignment to treatment groups, and a periodic "rematching" of the comparison groups over time to verify the continued comparability of samples and to determine whether any significant differences have arisen (for example, population mobility or increased level of parental educational or occupational attainment).
The Perry Preschool study compared various outcomes for individuals who had participated in the Perry Preschool model to the same outcomes for individuals with no preschool participation. In contrast, an additional long-term study, the HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison study (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1997) looked at outcomes yielded from participation in the Perry Preschool program's High/Scope curriculum versus participation in two alternative preschool programs. Each curriculum model was implemented similarly, with classes two and one-half hours in duration five days a week, and one and one-half hour-long home visits weekly when the students were 3 and 4 years old. Except for the use of different curriculum models, all aspects of implementation across the three groups were identical. Although somewhat more heterogeneous, the HighScope comparison study population, like the Perry study sample, was uniformly of low socioeconomic status and faced many of the same risk factors as the Perry study group. The study found that the High/Scope curriculum was indistinguishable from a traditional Nursery School preschool curriculum through age 23. However, at age 15 and above, the group that participated in the third curriculum, Direct Instruction, reported 2 1/2 times as many acts of misconduct as the High/Scope and Nursery School groups. Participants in the Direct Instruction curriculum also participated in sports and social activities less often, and were thought of less positively by their families.
Finally, when considering the evaluations and outcomes, it is important to note that all evaluative efforts to date have been conducted by the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the original designers and founders of the program. However, Heckman et al. (2009) reanalyzed the HighScope data and found similar results.
Dr. Lawrence J. Schweinhart
HighScope Educational Research Foundation
600 North River Street
Ypsilanti, Mich. 48198-2898
(734) 485-2000 (phone)
(734) 485-0704 (fax)
For High/Scope Curriculum materials or information or to reach the training network, call 1-800-40-PRESS.
The program has a demonstration classroom in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In addition, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation offers assistance to preschool programs in the areas of training, curriculum and materials development, and research.
Barnett, W. Steven,
Lives in the Balance: Age-27 Benefit-Cost Analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program,
Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press, Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 11, 1996.
Berrueta-Clement, J. R., L. J. Schweinhart, W. Steven Barnett, et al., Changed Lives: The Effects of the Perry Preschool Program on Youths Through Age 19, Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press, Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 8, 1984.
Clements, D. H. "Major Themes and Recommendations," in D. H. Clements, J. Samara, and A. M. DiBiase, eds., Engaging Young Children in Mathematics: Standards for Early Childhood Mathematics Education, Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2004, pp. 7-72.
Dewey, J., Experience and Education, New York: Macmillan, 1938 (1973 edition).
Epstein, A.S. Essentials of Active Learning in Preschool: Getting to Know the High/Scope Curriculum. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press, 2007.
Gelman, R., and K. Brenneman, "Science Learning Pathways for Young Children," Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2004, pp. 150-158.
Heckman, J. J., S. H. Moon, R. Pinto, P. A. Savelyev, and A. Q. Yavitz, "A Reanalysis of the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," unpublished manuscript, University of Chicago, Department of Economics, 2009.
Hohmann, M., & Weikart, D. P., & Epstein, A. S. Educating Young Children: Active Learning Practices for Preschool and Child Care Programs (3rd ed.) Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press, 2008.
Kagan, S.L., Moore, E. & Bradekamp, S. (Eds.). Reconsidering Children's Early Development and Learning: Toward Common Views and Vocabulary. Report of National Education Goals Panel, Goal 1 Technical Planning Group. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995.
Karoly, Lynn A., M. Rebecca Kilburn, James H. Bigelow, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Jill S. Cannon, Assessing Costs and Benefits of Early Childhood Intervention Programs: Overview and Application to the Starting Early, Starting Smart Program, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, MR-1336-CFP, 2001. As of August 20, 2009: http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1336/
Karoly, Lynn A., Peter W. Greenwood, Susan S. Everingham, Jill Hoube, M. Rebecca Kilburn, C. Peter Rydell, Matthew Sanders, and James Chiesa, Investing in Our Children: What We Know and Don't Know About the Costs and Benefits of Early Childhood Interventions, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, MR-898-TCWF, 1998. As of August 20, 2009: http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR898/
Muennig, Peter, Lawrence Schweinhart, Jeanne Montie, and Matthew Neidell, "Effects of a Prekindergarten Educational Intervention on Adult Health: 37-Year Follow-Up Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial," American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 99, 2009, pp. 1431-1437.
National Research Council, Mathematical and Scientific Development in Early Childhood, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2005.
Piaget, J., and B. Inhelder, The Psychology of the Child, New York: Basic Books, 1969.
Schweinhart, L. J., and D. P. Weikart, Young Children Grow Up: The Effects of the Perry Preschool Program on Youths Through Age 15, Ypsilanti, Mich., HighScope Press., Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 7, 1980.
Schweinhart, L. J., and D. P. Weikart, Lasting Differences: The HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study Through Age 23, Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press, Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 12, 1997.
Schweinhart, L. J., H. V. Barnes, and D. P. Weikart, Significant Benefits: The High/Scope Preschool Study Through Age 27, Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press, Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 10, 1993.
Schweinhart, L. J., J. Montie, Z. Xiang, W. S. Barnett, C. R. Belfield, and M. Nores, Lifetime Effects: The HighScope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40, Ypsilanti, Mich.: HighScope Press, Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 14, 2005.
Shore, R., Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development, New York: Families and Work Institute, 1997.
Thompson, R. A., and C. A. Nelson, "Developmental Science and Media: Early Brain Development," American Psychologist, Vol. 56, No. 1, 2001, pp. 5-15.
Vygotsky, L., Thought and Language, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1934 (1962 edition).
Weikart, D. P., D. Deloria, S. Lawser, and R. Wiegerink. 1970. Longitudinal Results of the Ypsilanti Perry Preschool Project, Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Press.