Drew Bailey, an assistant professor, and Greg Duncan, a professor in the School of Education at the University of California, and Candice Odgers, a professor of public policy, psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, reviewed data from 67 high-quality interventions about literacy and math skills development. The researchers found that the benefits of early interventions tended to fade surprisingly fast, by as much as 50 percent within a year, and by 50 percent again after two years. Why do the best efforts in this regard often bring only ephemeral gains?

Basic math and reading abilities are necessary for learning more complex math and reading concepts and many studies have shown a strong correlation between school-entry level and later academic performance. For example, we need to be able to count before learning to add, and to understand the relation between letters and sounds before learning to read. It seems though that the skills young children typically learn are skills they would anyway pick up a few years later. So, over time, the less advanced children catch up in learning their letters and numbers, learning to count and read, and controlling their emotions and impulses.

Actually, children raised in poverty don’t remain behind at school because they are unable to master the basics. They are kept back for another reason. They may experience many stresses, like moving often, being homeless, or being more exposed to violence. Their parents, confronted with stresses themselves, may have difficulties to provide their offspring a stimulating and efficient upbringing. It is not surprising that children raised in challenging home environments and mediocre classrooms can struggle to keep the early advantage they may have when they start school.

It would however be a big mistake to assess early intervention programs only by looking at their short-term results. It’s crucial to measure their effects in the long term since they can really improve the lives of millions of children.

Picture: Alan (ChildUp co-founder), a Mother and her Child, and a Teacher of the Arcanys Early Learning Foundation (Pablo S. Quiza, w/Effects)