Diane Schanzenbach Advises Japan on Trade-Offs in Early Childhood Education Policy

Diane Schanzenbach Advises Japan on Trade-Offs in Early Childhood Education Policy

Diane Schanzenbach

“It’s important to keep in mind that early childhood education is both childcare for mother’s employment, and it’s human capital investment,” SESP associate professor Diane Schanzenbach told Japanese policy makers recently. Schanzenbach was invited to Japan as a guest of the Japanese government for a discussion of early childhood education.

In fact, it was the first discussion of early childhood education at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), a cabinet office for the Japanese government. At an ESRI conference, Schanzenbach discussed research by a Japanese researcher on the impact of preschool programs on Japanese children's achievement.

“I used what I have been studying in the US context to help them think about human capital impacts and impacts on women's labor force participation,” says Schanzenbach. “Prime Minister Abe has early childhood education high on his policy agenda, in part because he would like to increase women's labor force participation. I was honored to be able to help them think through the trade-offs involved in these policy discussions!”

During her speech at the conference, Schanzenbach emphasized research showing the value of early childhood education. “Early childhood is a very, very efficient time to invest in human capital. … If we invest more in children today, in the future we get higher returns in terms of future productivity,” she said, pointing out the strong adult impacts on employment, welfare, criminal behavior, earnings and more.

As she discussed a Japanese study of early childhood education presented at the conference, Schanzenbach outlined the impact of three factors in terms of policy. It’s important to consider what children would be doing if they weren’t in early childhood education; the quality of treatment in terms of curriculum, staffing and resources; and the reasons families make certain selections for their children. “All policies to expand early childhood education must be made with these in mind,” Schanzenbach concluded.

To increase the maternal labor supply, governments can expand access to better quality preschool with higher quality or lower prices, according to Schanzenbach. In the United States, President Obama’s proposal amounts to inserting medium-quality preschool for a low price to improve the quality of education for children of low-education mothers. “We need to figure out how to expand this access to early childhood education without crowding out too much from the people who are already opting into private preschools,” says Schanzenbach, who sees Japan facing the same challenge.

An economist and professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, Schanzenbach studies education policy, child health, and food consumption. Her most recent work investigates the impact of school accountability policies and school reform policies on student performance and other outcomes.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 10/29/13