With so much pressure surrounding budgets and results, schools and foundations have a tendency of prematurely evaluating programs, burying them before they even get a chance to flourish. We spend too much time evaluating the short-term effects of a program to the point that we forget about the long-term effects they could have on children once they reach their adult years.
The Long-Term Effects of Education Vs. the Short-Term Impact
Based on the average life expectancy of 79 years as well as the fact that the average person goes to school from kindergarten through to the 12th grade, a typical American citizen spends 15% of their life in school. But, this number increases to as high as 29% if you consider the fact that more than 40% of adults aged 18 to 24 go to college. And, it doesn’t stop there as more and more high school students are attending college or undertaking courses online.
Assuming that many kids go to school for approximately 20 years of their lives, it’s clear that in some cases, the long-term impact of a lesson, course, or curriculum can have a bigger impact than in the short term. Worse yet, by focusing exclusively on the short-term impact, we jeopardize our ability to do what’s best for our children.
Take our summer program, for example. By the end of the summer, we always see a growth in math and reading literacy. But, the impact of our summer program is not limited to the short-term increase in math and English scores. And, if we stuck to this sole measure of success, our program would just be another intervention. However, there are handfuls of positive, social impacts on confidence, motivation towards learning, relationships developed with adults and more. With this in mind, we can extrapolate that the impact of our programs has the potential for a much larger impact in the future when you recognize that these social development indicators are necessary for success on teams, in life and in the workplace.
Introducing the Sleeper Effect
The Sleeper Effect is when the outcome of a program doesn’t appear immediately after it ends. Instead, the effects of the program kick in at least one year or more down the line.
Sleeper effects are rare in education research. But, measuring the outcomes of a program on young children is more difficult than with adults. This is because learning children are more inconsistent than their older peers.
Let’s take preschool programs as an example. A truly substantial impact among preschool children would be easier to measure once they become older. That said, the majority of preschool studies compare children that attend Early Childhood and those that don’t. But, what if we compared two different groups of children, both of which attend preschool?
Well, in 2009, Mark Lipsey and Dale Farran did and the results were astonishing. During the study, they randomly assigned Head Start classes in Tennessee to three conditions. The first group attended a creative curriculum, the second attended a control group whereby the teachers used their usual methods of teaching, and the third attended a group with pre-literacy focus.
Immediately after they attended the preschool programs, results were minor. Later, in third grade, the majority of students who attended the pre-literacy group scored significantly better than those in other groups.
Another, more infamous example was The Perry Preschool project and its accompanying study from 1962 to 1967 where children aged 3 and 4 were randomly divided into two groups. The first group was part of a high-quality preschool program based on HighScope’s participatory learning approach. The other group didn’t attend a preschool program.
The early results of the program were discouraging. In reading and math, the preschoolers' achievement scores at 7 and 8 weren't much better than the control group's, and while the preschoolers' IQ scores spiked, that difference soon disappeared.
In 2005, those undertaking the study interviewed 97% of living participants at the age of 40. They also gathered information from social services, police records, and other schools they attended. The results of the study were astonishing. Those who attended the preschool program committed fewer crimes, earned more, were more likely to hold a job and have a career, and more of them graduated from high school compared to those who didn’t attend the preschool program.
Choosing and Implementing Programs
With so many studies suggesting that the Sleeper Effect is real and that programs with few short-term effects can yield incredible long-term results, how can we know which ones to implement? The answer is to focus on programs that are grounded in long-term, evidence-based practices.
At Practice Makes Perfect, we integrate mentorship because, based on empirical research, we know that it has a positive impact on students. We also only use curricula that have been tried and tested. With the above in mind, if a program doesn’t work, it’s more likely a result of poor implementation rather than the program itself.
By working with a team of professionals with experience integrating tried and tested methods and curricula with the correct implementation, you can have a positive long-term impact on your students.