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In Obama's state of the union address 2013 he said,

Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on -- boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime. In states like Georgia that have made it a priority to educate our youngest children, states like Oklahoma, students don’t just show up in kindergarten and first grade more prepared to learn, they're also more likely to grow up reading and doing math at grade level, graduating from high school, holding a job, even forming more stable families.

(emphasis mine)

The ineffectiveness of Head-Start on student performance was already covered here. What effect does early education have on graduation rates, pregnancy, and violent crime?

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    Obama's statements appear to stem from one particular study. Politifact has a rather good analysis here: politifact.com/georgia/statements/2013/feb/19/barack-obama/… (Summary: it's just one study) – user1530 Jul 1 '13 at 16:12
  • @DA. - summary from Politifact: "We rate Obama’s claim Half True". – user4012 Jul 1 '13 at 16:15
  • @dvk yes. Mainly because the numbers are all pulled from only one limited study. – user1530 Jul 1 '13 at 16:16
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    @DA. - that's why god invented answers :). OK, Jeff Atwood. Same difference. – user4012 Jul 1 '13 at 16:20
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    There was a correlation between children who went to preschool and graduation rates, reduced teen pregnancy, and reduced crime. That is not causation but the government overlooks that part. That the causation was probably the fact that parents who are actively involved in their childrens schooling raise children who value their school work and themselves. Children whos parents do not get involved feel less value in themselves and thus try to do things that make them feel value, and do the things they see their parents do. – SoylentGray Jul 2 '13 at 15:03
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As mentioned in the comments the "seven dollar" claim is supported by one study. According to this factsheet, there are at least individual studies that support some of the other claims as well.

  • Graduation: "Chicago children who attended an early childhood education program were 29% more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who did not attend."
  • Crime: "Chicago children who did not attend early childhood education programs were 70% more likely to be arrested for violent crime by age 18 than their peers who had attended.
  • Pregnancy: "North Carolina children who attended early childhood programs were less likely to become teen parents than their peers who did not attend (26% vs. 45%)."

I haven't hunted for the references to verify these statements, but the first two may refer to the same Chicago study that the seven dollar figure comes from.

There have been several comprehensive meta-studies of the general issue. Here is one published in 2010 that states:

Consistent with the accrued research base on the effects of preschool education, significant effects were found in this study for children who attend a preschool program prior to entering kindergarten. Although the largest effect sizes were observed for cognitive outcomes, a preschool education was also found to impact children’s social skills and school progress. [emphasis added]

Here is another good source from 2013, which draws similar conclusions:

Most evaluations of early education programs show that such programs improve children’s school readiness, specifically their pre-academic skills, although the distribution of impact estimates is extremely wide, and gains on achievement tests typically fade over time. Some studies of children who attended preschool 20 or more years ago find that early childhood education programs also have lasting effects on children’s later life chances, improving educational attainment and earnings and, in some cases, reducing criminal activity. High-quality early childhood education programs thus have the potential to generate benefits well in excess of costs. [emphasis added]

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