The Rate of Return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program

This academic paper re-analyzes the effects of the Perry Preschool Program and confirms the 7-10% rate of return previously estimated in Schools, Skills, and Synapses.” It can be used to justify investment in high-quality preschool programs for disadvantaged children.

This paper estimates the rate of return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program, an early intervention program targeted toward disadvantaged African-American youth. Estimates of the rate of return to the Perry program are widely cited to support the claim of substantial economic benefits from preschool education programs. Previous studies of the rate of return to this program ignore the compromises that occurred in the randomization protocol. They do not report standard errors. The rates of return estimated in this paper account for these factors. We conducted an extensive analysis of sensitivity to alternative plausible assumptions. Estimated annual social rates of return generally fall between 7 and 10%, with most estimates substantially lower than those previously reported in the literature. However, returns are generally statistically significantly different from zero for both males and females and are above the historical return on equity. Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios support this conclusion.