Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – It’s a soft sell – come and listen to renowned figures who have studied the benefits of educating very young children, and maybe people will leave charged up to support more and better preschool programs in Mississippi.

With that in mind, the University of Mississippi’s Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning brought two of the most renowned figures in early childhood learning to Jackson earlier this month – Craig and Sharon Ramey.

The Rameys are the prime movers behind a series of studies looking at the benefits of rigorous, intensive preschool starting with infants and keeping them until age 5. Those studies show big benefits for the effort, benefits that extend well into adulthood and help the students in surprising ways.

For Craig Ramey, extending similar opportunities to poor children today is the key to giving them a fair shot at success later in life.

“The function of the early education is to level the playing field,” he said.

The results he cites are impressive. Poor children who went through preschool programs overseen by the Rameys saw their IQs stay at about the national average through age 5, while similar children who didn’t go saw their IQs fall below the national average and stay low.

Students who benefited from those preschools have experienced long-lasting benefits. By age 30, they were four times more likely to graduate from college than children who didn’t attend. They were substantially more likely to have a full-time job and make more money, and less likely to be receiving public assistance. They were also healthier, more likely to have delayed the birth of their first child, and even reported being emotionally closer to their parents. And mothers benefited as well, being much more likely to have continued their education.