Skip to main content

Perry Preschool Project

Go Search
New Atlas
Atlas, A-Z
Atlas Maps
MPP/MPA Programs
Core Topics
Illustrative Courses
Topic Encyclopedia
Concept Dictionary
Career Tips
Best Practices Project

PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > P, Q > Perry Preschool Project

Perry Preschool Project 

An experimental project begun in 1962, which studied the effect of preschool participation on the social and cognitive development of children from disadvantaged families.

(Fuller, Bridges and Pai, 2007)


The Perry Preschool project is the single most famous small-scale experiment in the area of early childhood education. The results of this experiment provide some of the most compelling evidence that early intervention can dramatically impact future outcomes for disadvantaged children.

The Perry Preschool opened in 1962 as a carefully designed half-day prekindergarten program for poor African-American children. The program included home-visits from teachers outside of school hours. The future outcomes of Perry students as compared to the control group, which received no pre-schooling, were truly remarkable and did not “fade away” over time. The treatment group was 20% more likely to graduate from college, were significantly less likely to be arrested, and experienced fewer teenage pregnancies than the control group.

Proponents of government subsidization of early childhood education often point to the Perry program as evidence that investments in early interventions are a wise investment in human capital that pay off in superior economic performance and social conduct in adolescence and adulthood.

It is important to recognize, however, that the Perry program was very small and extremely expensive and is therefore not a realistic model for a much larger system. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the program was targeted at children very poor families, whom existing evidence suggest are the most likely to enjoy long-term benefits from childcare participation. No conclusive evidence has yet been produced that early childhood interventions can produce long-term effects for middle-class children that are comparable to the large effect sizes that were found for disadvantaged children through the Perry project.

Nonetheless, the Perry program remains the single most influential study in the area of early childhood education. The study, by using an experimental design, convincingly demonstrated that, at least for disadvantaged children, exposure to high-quality learning experiences in early childhood can have significant and long-lasting impacts on social and cognitive development.


Fuller, Bruce, Margaret Bridges and Seeta Pai. 2007. Standardized Childhood: The Political and Cultural Struggle over Early Education. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance