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Ed Knows Policy

EKP -- a local (Washington, DC) and national blog about education policy, politics, and research.

Who is Ed Researcher?

Monday, June 26, 2006


This NBER working paper is a must-read, not so much for its new research evidence as for its novelty as an attempt by Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman to show how well rounded and inquisitive he is. (In fairness, he IS well rounded and inquisitive and deserved a solo prize instead of sharing it with Daniel McFadden in 2000).

The thesis: The best way to improve the economy is to invest in very early intervention for disadvantaged children.

The evidence: Crude under-powered social experiments (Perry preschool and Abecedarian), animal studies (monkeys, rodents, and owls), arguments about how plastic the brain is at young ages, and fancy figures.

The conclusion: Early intervention is better than later intervention.

What's missing: Policy recommendations or even hints. "The issue of what the optimal strategies might be for maximizing the productivity of the future U.S. workforce is beyond the scope of the current discussion." Gee, thanks for nothing.

The funders: MacArther, Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, Buffet Early Childhood Fund

Abstract after the jump...


A growing proportion of the U.S. workforce will have been raised in disadvantaged environments that are associated with relatively high proportions of individuals with diminished cognitive and social skills. A cross-disciplinary examination of research in economics, developmental psychology, and neurobiology reveals a striking convergence on a set of common principles that account for the potent effects of early environment on the capacity for human skill development. Central to these principles are the findings that early experiences have a uniquely powerful influence on the development of cognitive and social skills, as well as on brain architecture and neurochemistry; that both skill development and brain maturation are hierarchical processes in which higher level functions depend on, and build on, lower level functions; and that the capacity for change in the foundations of human skill development and neural circuitry is highest earlier in life and decreases over time. These findings lead to the conclusion that the most efficient strategy for strengthening the future workforce, both economically and neurobiologically, and for improving its quality of life is to invest in the environments of disadvantaged children during the early childhood years.


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11:22 PM  

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