Universal preschool's and cause and effect in education

Universal preschool's big payoff - Los Angeles Times

IT HAS LONG been an American article of faith that early schooling for poor children can work wonders. A word-rich classroom gives poor 3 and 4-year-old kids the basic tools for learning and for sharpening their talents for solving problems. A nurturing environment teaches children, many of them from worlds in disarray, how to work and play well with others. Such an experience can create something close to a level playing field, not only in kindergarten but for an entire lifetime.
The landmark study of Perry Preschool tracked a group of poor African American youngsters from when they attended pre-kindergarten in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s until they were well into middle age.

The findings are astonishing: a $17 return to the individual and society for every dollar spent on their early education. Those who went to Perry were considerably more likely than children who didn't attend preschool to have graduated from high school and married, significantly less likely to have gone to prison multiple times and to have been on welfare. They're earning an average of $20,800 a year. That's 25% more than similar children who lacked the preschool experience — enough of a difference to lift them above the poverty line.
Whether preschool has a significant effect depends crucially on its quality.

Moreover, all children, not just poor youngsters, benefit from the preschool experience. What's more, in states where every child can participate, poor youngsters (those eligible for free and reduced-price lunches) do essentially as well as those kids from better-off families.

These state preschools aren't extra special, but they are good enough for children from varied backgrounds to learn a lot. That's excellent news to those who favor universal preschool.

This article (I've excerpted about half) is interesting for its content but also for some of the models it applies to education. For instance, the 'return on investment' model and the balance of moral and economic benefits.

Of particular interest, however, is the mixing of individual benefits with societal benefits seems to be a common inferential strategy in education discourse.