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September 1, 1999
Vol. 57
No. 1

The Advantages of High/Scope: Helping Children Lead Successful Lives

The High/Scope educational approach emphasizes success in life, not just in school, for all children, including those born in poverty.

An educational approach should be judged not only by its effect on children's achievement test scores, but also by its effect on their everyday actions and, ultimately, on their lifetime accomplishments. It's not enough simply to impart testable knowledge to students; good education also enables them to use knowledge effectively in their day-to-day efforts to achieve responsibility, success, and happiness. The true test of an educational approach is how well it contributes to these life outcomes.
The High/Scope educational approach emphasizes child-initiated learning activities for preschool and elementary school children. Although evidence shows that this approach helps children from various backgrounds do well in school (DeVries, Reese-Learned, & Morgan, 1991; Marcon, 1999), the strongest evidence shows that it helps children living in poverty achieve greater success and responsibility throughout their lives.

The Evidence

  • were better prepared for school;
  • had higher achievement-test scores in middle and high school;
  • were more likely to graduate from high school;
  • as young adults earned more money, were more likely to own a home and a second car, and were less likely to be on welfare; and
  • were arrested for half as many crimes through early adulthood.
Through these effects, taxpayers received an economic return of $7.16 for each dollar invested in the program.
A subsequent study, the High/Scope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study, asked how well three theoretically distinct early childhood educational approaches contributed to the life outcomes of participants born in poverty (Schweinhart & Weikart, 1997, 1998). The study randomly assigned 68 preschoolers to three curriculum groups and followed 76 percent of them through age 23. Compared with children who received Direct Instruction, those who experienced High/Scope later showed more positive social behavior, such as volunteer work, and less antisocial behavior, such as misconduct and property crimes leading to felony arrests. In particular, 6 percent of the High/Scope group but 47 percent of the Direct Instruction group required treatment for emotional impairment or disturbance during their schooling. Engelmann (1999) disputed one of these findings, but not the overall pattern involving 10 findings from three data sources.
Research on two decades of High/Scope staff development activities asked whether those who received training in this educational approach used it effectively (Epstein, 1993). Some 1,500 certified High/Scope trainers have provided workshops and support to the teaching staff of nearly 19,000 classrooms. Compared with children in other preschool classes of comparable quality, children in High/Scope classes were found to be significantly more advanced in important aspects of their development.
Another study asked whether the High/Scope approach was effective with elementary school children living in poverty (Schweinhart & Wallgren, 1993). This study, which was better designed than the earlier Follow Through evaluations (Stebbins, St. Pierre, Proper, Anderson, & Cerva, 1977), found that children who experienced High/Scope had significantly higher achievement test scores than other students did.

An Open Framework Approach

The High/Scope approach is an open framework of guidelines for the actions of adults and children—open to, and supportive of, their ideas. Building on the ideas of Piaget and Dewey, Weikart and his colleagues originally developed the approach in the 1960s (Hohmann & Weikart, 1995).
Classes have a consistent daily routine that emphasizes a plan-do-review sequence. Children make and carry out their plans, then talk about and represent their activities. The routine has clean-up and snack times and small-group, large-group, and outside activities. High/Scope's research-based preschool and elementary school key experiences help adults support and extend children's activities toward the next steps in all aspects of their development—initiative, social relations, creative representation, music and movement, language and literacy, logic, mathematics, and science. The High/Scope Child Observation Record (High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 1992) uses these key experiences to assess children's development. The approach also calls for daily curriculum planning by teachers, strong outreach to parents as partners in the educational process, and systematic in-service training.
The essence of the approach is that children and adults learn by acting on and experiencing their environments. This position distinguishes High/Scope from Direct Instruction, in which adults closely follow the prescribed teaching method and children meet adults' demands, and from open, child-centered education, in which adults have very general curriculum guidelines and seldom direct children's activities.

DeVries, R., Reese-Learned, H., & Morgan, P. (1991, December). Sociomoral development in direct-instruction, eclectic, and constructivist kindergartens: A study of children's enacted interpersonal understanding. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 6, 473–517.

Engelmann, S. (1999, March). How sound is High/Scope research? Educational Leadership, 56, 83–84.

Epstein, A. S. (1993). Training for quality: Improving early childhood programs through systematic inservice training. (Monographs of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 9). Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. (1992). High/Scope child observation record for ages 21/2–6. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Hohmann, M., & Weikart, D. P. (1995). Educating young children: Active learning practices for preschool and child care programs. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Marcon, R. A. (1999). Differential impact of preschool models on development and early learning of inner-city children: A three-cohort study. Developmental Psychology, 35(2), 358–375.

Schweinhart, L. J., Barnes, H. V., & Weikart, D. P. (1993). Significant benefits: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study through age 27. (Monographs of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, No. 10). Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Schweinhart, L. J., & Wallgren, C. R. (1993). Effects of a follow through program on school achievement. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 8(1), 43–56.

Schweinhart, L. J., & Weikart, D. P. (1997). Lasting differences: The High/Scope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study through age 23. (Monographs of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, No. 12). Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Schweinhart, L. J., & Weikart, D. P. (1998, March). Why curriculum matters in early childhood education. Educational Leadership, 55, 57–60.

Stebbins, L. B., St. Pierre, R. G., Proper, E. C., Anderson, R. B., & Cerva, T. R. (1977). Education as experimentation: A planned variation model (Vol. IV–A, An evaluation of Follow Through). Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates.

Lawrence J. Schweinhart has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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