Kimberly P. Diamond-Berry, Ph.D.
Director of Research, Policy, and Practice HighScope Educational Research Foundation
Venture into the HighScope Demonstration Preschool in Ypsilanti, MI and you will observe the program’s commitment to promoting high-quality early childhood education for every child. Operated by the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, an independent nonprofit research, development, training, and public outreach organization, the school welcomes visitors from across the U.S. and around the world who come to observe HighScope’s distinctive, research-backed curriculum in an authentic classroom environment. The effectiveness of the approach is evident in its outcomes for graduates: strong problem solving and conflict resolution skills, intelligent decision-making, the ability to transition between learning settings, and overall academic, social, and emotional readiness for kindergarten. It is Ideal Learning made real.
Grounded in research from the beginning, HighScope’s well-known Perry Preschool Study, which began in the early 1960s and compared disadvantaged children in a HighScope program with a control group, found that Perry Preschool attendees went on to graduate from high school at higher rates than their peers, had higher monthly wages, and had fewer interactions with the criminal justice system. Nobel Laureate James Heckman analyzed the results and found a 7-10% return on investment.
The Demonstration Preschool exemplifies HighScope’s continuing commitment to equity both as an opportunity for the public to see the curriculum in practice and for nearby families to take part in developmental early childhood education at low cost. Preschool tuition for those who can’t afford to pay is funded through the Michigan Great Start Readiness Program and foundations. This allows children from all socio-economic groups to receive the benefits of a high-quality preschool.
The HighScope curriculum is centered on the principle of active participatory learning in which children construct knowledge through direct and immediate experience with objects, people, ideas, and events. As in other Ideal Learning programs, the learning environment in HighScope programs is designed to facilitate discovery, experimentation, independence, and interaction. This is how children develop their understanding of their world, with their exploration supported and guided, or “scaffolded,” by adults who help them build their knowledge base. Scaffolding, an idea formulated by developmental psychologist Jerome Bruner based on the ideas of psychologist Lev Vygotsky, describes the process by which teachers observe children to understand and support their current abilities, while offering gentle extensions to build on those abilities and develop new skills.
Another defining feature of the HighScope Preschool Curriculum is the “plan-do-review” sequence, which is essential to the development of executive function skills (i.e., working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility). Children spend 10–15 minutes each day in consistent small groups planning how they want to spend their time—who they want to play with, where they want to work, and what materials they will need to complete their plan—followed by 45–60 minutes of work time, in which they follow through with their plans. During work time, adults participate as partners in play and scaffold children’s learning. Following work time, children return to their consistent groups to reflect on the work they did, describe connections to their plan and the sequence of actions, explain any challenges that arose, and speculate on how they might use the materials they chose in the future. They might follow that reflection with an adult-initiated large group time, devoted to activities like movement, music, stories, and group games, or a small group time based on children’s interests and developmental abilities. Both small and large group time is a key component of the HighScope curriculum.
Based on more than 50 years of research on early childhood development, the HighScope framework for understanding and supporting children’s learning from ages 3–5 years is based on 58 key developmental indicators, which are aligned with national and state early learning standards, Common Core state standards, and the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework. HighScope has created classroom and site kits that help teachers and administrators establish an effective program at their schools.
HighScope is also highly regarded for both child and program assessment, with tools that measure the full range of development and the quality of implementation in early childhood programs in areas such as learning environment, daily schedules and routines, adult-child interactions, and curriculum planning and assessment.
HighScope believes that all children deserve a high-quality, equitable early education. It continues to leverage decades of expertise to inform policies, elevate the profession, enhance teaching, build communities, and drive social change by empowering educators, supporting families, and preparing the youngest for school and for life.