Impacts of Early Childhood Education on Medium- and Long-Term Educational Outcomes (McCoy et al. 2016)

A recent analysis[1] published in the Education Researcher concludes that participation in high-quality early childhood education (ECE) programs have profound impacts on the educational outcomes of students. Using more than 50 years of data, authors find that ECE enrollment is related to significant decreases in special education placement and grade retention, while increasing the likelihood of graduating high school.


Specifically, the study finds that children who participated in a high-quality preschool program are 8% less likely to be placed in special education or held back and 11% more likely to graduate high school. Even when considering the time passed between completion of a high-quality ECE program and when data was collected from students, results remain consistent. These improvements in student outcomes have significant impacts on the life trajectory of Hoosier children while reducing expenditures on special education, grade retention, and costs associated with a student who does not finish high school.


Per the U.S. Department of Education, the cost of Kindergarten retention alone cost Indiana $24,374,960 in 2016, not including federal or local costs, where the study notes that the annual per-pupil expenditure on retention and special education for K-12 students is around $12,000 and $8,000, respectively. Even more, students who drop out of high school earn an estimated $689,000 less over their lifetime and are 35% more likely to be arrested in their lifetime. These costs to society are unnecessary: just a 1% increase in high school graduation rates would save approximately $1.4 billion nationally.[2]


Consistently, research shows that early childhood programs are “the context in which early development unfolds,” augmenting a child’s growth in cognitive, social, and emotional skills.[3] In Indiana, however, enrollment significantly trails other states, estimating that only 34% of children ages 0-5 are enrolled in a high-quality ECE program.[4] Given the importance of high-quality education programs—for academic achievement, for lifelong outcomes, and for taxpayer savings—Indiana is called to continue expanding access to high-quality, affordable ECE programs.

Learn about United Way’s work in Early Childhood Education


[1] McCoy, D. C., Yoshikawa, H., Ziol-Guest, K. M., Duncan, G. J., Schindler, H. S., Magnuson, K., … & Shonkoff, J. P. (2017). Impacts of Early Childhood Education on Medium-and Long-Term Educational Outcomes. Educational Researcher46(8), 474-487.

[2] Alliance for Excellent Education. (2003a, November). FactSheet: The impact of education on: Crime. Washington, DC: Author.

[3] Phillips, D. A., & Shonkoff, J. P. (Eds.). (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. National Academies Press. Pg. 297.

[4] ELAC 2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from