Chicago Preschool Experiment

  • Education
  • 2009

A giant experiment is now taking place in Chicago to see what tools work best to improve the academic performance of underachieving inner-city children. Thanks to a $10 million grant from hedge-fund founder Ken Griffin, some of the enrolled families receive cash incentives to undergo yearlong parent training. Other families will have their children enrolled in a new preschool where it is the teachers who get special incentives if their students meet certain achievement levels. Additional experiments will make small payments to parents, children, or teachers if they meet narrower weekly goals.

All of the results of this careful field experiment will be carefully tracked by University of Chicago professor John List and colleagues, and compared to a control group of similar families who get no incentives. And the total 600 children involved will be followed by the investigators for decades—with attention paid to who graduates, who eventually gets jobs, who has trouble with the law, how much each person earns, etc. Because the lessons of this research will emerge only over a period of years, in steps, this kind of philanthropy requires patience. The findings, however, could eventually be pivotal in deciding how future educational dollars should be spent.