New Research Shows Quality Early Childhood Education Reduces Need for Later Special Ed

By Philpott, David; -, Professor et al. | The Canadian Press, March 5, 2019 | Go to article overview

New Research Shows Quality Early Childhood Education Reduces Need for Later Special Ed


Philpott, David, -, Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland, The Canadian Press


New research shows quality early childhood education reduces need for later special ed

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: David Philpott, Professor - Special Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland

If a formula existed for giving children something that reduced the need for, or intensity of, later special education that can be both emotionally and financially costly, wouldn't it be excellent?

Such a formula does exist. It's called quality early childhood education.

I was part of a team of special education researchers that examined the impact of early childhood education in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. More than 50 years of data were offered to us by longitudinal studies that tracked children who received this quality education and compared their development to children who did not.

We reached a startling conclusion: participation in quality early childhood education programs significantly prevents special education placement and lowers the intensity of supports required for children with exceptionalities.

Exceptionalities could include children on the autism spectrum, as well as other children who would require additional supports beyond the mainstream classroom -- for special education placements or tailored plans.

We found that a continuum of evidence, from multiple studies in multiple countries, unanimously demonstrates what specialists call the "pre-emptive nature" of early childhood education: it pre-empts issues from developing or getting more challenging.

There is a payoff of early quality childhood education for families, for communities, for economies but especially for child development.

And, while investments in the early years more than pay for themselves, the return is more substantial when factoring the impact on special education.

Collectively, this research offers a wealth of irrefutable insight for policy-makers.

These outcomes stem from the finding that the skills typically targeted by early childhood education programming are likely precursors of children's ability to maintain a positive academic trajectory. They include cognitive skills in language, literacy and math and socio-emotional capacities in self-regulation, motivation, engagement and persistence.

Canadian findings

I have spent 38 years at the forefront of special education in this country. When I began, children with disabilities were in different schools.

Now we have today's highly inclusive educational model where neighbourhood schools are legally mandated to include all children, regardless of need. Today, contemporary classrooms are marked by their heterogeneity.

Canadian schools do a relatively decent yet incomplete job at what's called "equalizing child development." That means schools quite rapidly bring children up to speed in the first couple of years when they enter the system with less enriched skills -- except, it must be stated, in the case of marginalized children, who live in poverty or have special education needs.

In Canada, researchers have found quality early childhood education benefits individual children by improving rates of high school completion, post-secondary education and socio-economic status.

For these reasons, front-loading interventions during the early years is wise public policy.

In Ontario, the success of junior and senior kindergarten has produced startling results:

academic and developmental gains the children are enjoying are not fading as they get older, and the impact is greatest for those most at-risk for special education placements.

Yet full-day kindergarten now holds a questionable future under Conservative budget planning. …

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