"We have too many eggs in the kid basket," John List tells Bloomberg. "We need to spend much more time and many more resources on helping parents."
List, an economist at the University of Chicago, is testing this idea in a long-term, multimillion-dollar experiment funded by a rich financier, Bloomberg reports.
Chicago parents with kids age 3 to 5 were encouraged to enter a lottery that randomly assigned everyone to one of three groups.
In one group, the kids attend a free, all-day pre-school. In a second group, parents attend a "parenting academy" and receive up to $7,000 a year in cash or scholarships as a reward. In the third group, the kids don't receive any extra benefits.
List and his colleagues plan to follow the children throughout their lives — tracking academic performance, attendance records, graduation rates and, eventually, employment, pay, and criminal records.
At its core, the study seeks to answer a question at the heart of economics: What's the best way to allocate scarce resources?
In other words, there will never be unlimited funds for helping pre-school kids. So we should try to figure out the best way to divvy up the spending between educating the kids and educating their parents.