Early Childhood Education that Promotes Lifelong Learning, Health, and Social Well-being: The Abecedarian Project and its Replications

Main Article Content

Craig T. Ramey, PhD Sharon Landesman Ramey

Abstract

Introduction: The Abecedarian Project was a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that tested the effects of 5 years of early education combined with social and health supports on learning and cognitive development in infants from high-risk environments. This article provides a reflective review of its key findings from 50 years along with results from variations also tested in RCTs.


Methods: The Abecedarian Project and its replications all used a comparative efficacy RCT design. The Early Education treatment group received systematic early education with pediatric health care, early nutritional enhancement, and family social services while the Health/Social Services comparison group received health and family supports but not the formal early education program. In childhood, key outcomes were cognition and school-age academic achievement; in adulthood, assessments included post-high school educational attainment, employment, income/assets, adult family relationships, brain development, and social decision-making.


Results: At all tested ages after 12 months of age, the Abecedarian Early Education was associated with significant benefits in children’s cognitive development, school and educational achievements, and multiple indicators of positive health and indicators of adult social adjustment. Collectively, the major replication studies provide affirmation of the positive impact of high-quality early education, although the breadth and magnitude of benefits vary with the child’s environmental risks and dosage of the early education intervention. Some unexpected long-term associations include enhanced caring and future planning in social decision-making, positive relationships with parents, altered brain structure, and improved cardiovascular health.


Conclusions: This series of RCTs improved developmental trajectories of infants born into multi-risk social, economic, and biological life circumstances, thus strongly resolving that human malleability is achievable. The challenge ahead concerns how to effectively disseminate and practically use these findings to realize widespread benefits. We nominate both a guiding conceptual framework to help plan and measure strategic interventions as well as a set of hallmarks associated with successful community implementation of effective child and family programs.

Keywords: Early childhood education, high risk infants, poverty effects, Abecedarian Project, low birthweight, childcare effects, cognitive development, Project CARE, health benefits, return on investment, treatment-induced neuroplasticity, Infant Health and Development Project, academic achievement

Article Details

How to Cite
RAMEY, Craig T.; RAMEY, Sharon Landesman. Early Childhood Education that Promotes Lifelong Learning, Health, and Social Well-being: The Abecedarian Project and its Replications. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 11, nov. 2023. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <https://esmed.org/MRA/mra/article/view/4590>. Date accessed: 17 apr. 2024. doi: https://doi.org/10.18103/mra.v11i11.4590.
Section
Research Articles

References

1. Galton F. Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development. Macmillan; 1883.
2. Jensen AR. How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement? Harv Educ Rev. 1969;39:1-123.
3. Herrnstein RJ, Murray CA. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Free Press; 1994.
4. Hunt JM. Intelligence and Experience. Ronald; 1961.
5. Bijou SW, Baer DM. Child Development: A Systematic and Empirical Theory. Appleton-Century-Crofts; 1961.
6. Duncan G, Magnuson K, Kalil A, Ziol-Guest K. The importance of early childhood poverty. Soc Indic Res. 2012;108:1-12.
7. Farah MJ. The neuroscience of socioeconomic status: Correlates, causes, and consequences. Neuron. 2017;96:56-71.
8. Markham JA, Greenough WT. Experience-driven brain plasticity: Beyond the synapse. Neuron Glia Biol. 2004;1(4):351-363.
9. Nelson CA, Fox NA, Zeanah CH. Romania’s Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery. Harvard University Press; 2014.
10. Sparling J, Dragomir C, Ramey SL, Florescu L. An educational intervention improves developmental progress of young children in a Romanian orphanage. Infant Ment Health J, 2005;26(2):127-142.
11. Ramey CT, MacPhee D, Yeates KO. Preventing developmental retardation: A general systems model. In: Joffee JM, Bond LA, ed. Facilitating Infant and Early Childhood Development. University Press of New England; 1982:343-401.
12. Ramey CT, Ramey SL. Early intervention and early experience. Am Psychol. 1998; 53(2):109-120.
13. Ramey CT, Ramey SL, Lanzi RG. Children’s health and education. In: Sigel I, Renninger A, eds. The Handbook of Child Psychology. Vol. 4. Wiley & Sons; 2006:864-892.
14. Watson JS, Ramey CT. Reactions to response-contingent stimulation in early infancy. Merrill Palmer Q Behav Dev. 1972;18(3):219-227.
15. Ramey CT, Finkelstein NW. Contingent stimulation and infant competence. J Pediatr Psychol. 1978;3:89-96.
16. Ramey CT, Sparling JJ, Ramey SL. Abecedarian: The Ideas, the Approach, and the Findings. Sociometrics Corporation: 2012.
17. Sparling J, Ramey CT, Meunier K, Ramey SL. The Abecedarian Approach to Healthy Development. Abecedarian Education Foundation; 2022.
18. Shore R. Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development. Families and Work Institute; 1997.
19. Bickel WK, Moody L, Quisenberry AJ, Ramey CT, Sheffer CE. A competing neurobehavioral decision systems model of SES-related health and behavioral disparities. Prev Med. 2014;68:37-43.
20. Ramey CT, Ramey SL. Right from Birth: Building Your Child’s Foundation for Life. Goddard Press; 1999.
21. Ramey SL, Ramey CT. Going to School: How to Help Your Child Succeed. Goddard Press; 1999.
22. Ramey CT, Breitmayer BJ, Goldman BD, Wakeley, A. Learning and cognition during infancy. In: Hanson M, ed. Atypical Infant Development. Pro-Ed; 1996:311-364.
23. McGinness G, Ramey CT. Developing sociolinguistic competence in children. Can J Early Childhood Educ. 1981;1:22-43.
24. Ramey CT, Sparling JJ, Wasik B. Creating social environments to facilitate language development. In: Schiefelbusch R, Bricker D, eds. Early Language Intervention. University Park Press; 1981:444-476.
25. Sparling J, Lewis I, Ramey CT. Partners for Learning: Birth to 36 Months. Kaplan Press; 1984,1995 (revised).
26. Ramey CT, Campbell FA, Ramey SL. Early intervention: Successful pathways to improving intellectual development. Dev Neuropsychol. 1999;16(3):385-392.
27. Burchinal M, Lee M, Ramey CT. Type of day-care and preschool intellectual development in disadvantaged children. Child Dev. 1989;60:128-137.
28. Martin SL, Ramey CT, Ramey S. The prevention of intellectual impairment in children of impoverished families: Findings of a randomized trial of educational day care. Am J Public Health. 1990;80(7):844-847.
29. Ramey CT, Campbell FA, Burchinal M, Skinner ML, Gardner DM, Ramey SL. Persistent effects of early intervention on high-risk children and their mothers. Appl Dev Sci. 2000;4:2-14.
30. Farran, DC, Ramey CT. Infant day care and attachment behaviors towards mothers and teachers. Child Dev. 1977;51:1112-1116.
31. Farran DC, Ramey CT. Social class differences in dyadic involvement during infancy. Child Dev. 1980;51:254-257.
32. Ramey CT, Yeates KO, Short EJ. The plasticity of intellectual development: Insights from preventive intervention. Child Dev. 1984;55:1913-1925.
33. Ramey CT, Bryant DM, Sparling JJ, Wasik BH. Project CARE: A comparison of two early intervention strategies to prevent retarded development. Topics Early Child Spec Educ. 1985;5(2):12-25.
34. Wasik BH, Ramey CT, Bryant DM, Sparling JJ. A longitudinal study of two early intervention strategies: Project CARE. Child Dev. 1990;61(6):1682-1696.
35. IHDP [The Infant Health and Development Program]. Enhancing the outcomes of low-birth-weight, premature infants: A multisite randomized trial. J Am Med Assoc. 1990;263(22):3035 -3042.
36. Ramey CT, Bryant DM, Wasik BH, Sparling JJ, Fendt KH, LaVange LM. (1992). The Infant Health and Development Program for low birthweight, premature infants: Program elements, family participation, and child intelligence. Pediatr.1992;3:454-465.
37. Ramey CT, Ramey SL. Prevention of intellectual disabilities: Early interventions to improve cognitive development. Prev Med. 1998;27(2):224-232.
38. Blair C, Ramey CT, Hardin M. (1995). Early intervention for low birth weight premature infants: Participation and intellectual development. Am J Ment Retard. 1995;99:542-554.
39. Campbell FA, Ramey CT, Pungello E, Sparling J, Miller-Johnson S. Early childhood education: Young adult outcomes from the Abecedarian Project. Appl Dev Sci. 2002;6:42-57.
40. Campbell FA, Pungello EP, Burchinal M, et al. Adult outcomes as a function of an early childhood educational program: An Abecedarian Project follow-up. Dev Psychol. 2012;48(4):1033-1043.
41. Campbell FA, Conti G, Heckman JJ, et al. Early childhood investments substantially boost adult health. Science. 2014;343:1478-1485.
42. Farah, M.J., Sternberg, S., Nichols, T.A., et al. Randomized manipulation of early cognitive experience impacts adult brain structure. J Cogn Neurosci. 2021;33(6):1197-1209.
43. Luo Y, Hetu S, Lohrenz T, et al. (2018). Early childhood investment impacts social decision-making four decades later. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1):4705.
44. Ramey CT. The Abecedarian Approach to social, educational, and health disparities. Clinl Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2018;21(4):527-544.
45. Barnett WS. Lives in the balance: Benefit–cost analysis of the Perry Preschool Program through age 27. Monographs of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. High/Scope Press; 1986.
46. Barnett WS, Masse LN. Comparative benefit–cost analysis of the Abecedarian program and its policy implications. Econ Educ Rev. 2007;26:113-125.
47. Garcia JL, Heckman JJ, Leaf DE, Prados MJ. Quantifying the life-cycle benefits of an influential early-childhood program. J Political Econ. 2020;128(7):2502-2541.
48. Ramey CT, Ramey SL. Reframing policy and practice deliberations: Twelve hallmarks of strategies to attain and sustain early childhood gains. In Reynolds AJ, Temple JA, Rolnick AJ, Human Capital Research Collaborative, eds. Sustaining Early Childhood Learning Gains: Program, School, and Family Influences. Cambridge University Press; 2019.