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Eye On Education: Harvard Study Aims To Strengthen Preschool Learning

BOSTON (CBS) - When it comes to preschool, by now we know early learning can make a big difference but not all preschools are the same.

Harvard researchers are conducting a first-of-its kind study that could change and strengthen the quality of early childhood education across the country.

It is all thanks to the generosity of an Oscar Award-winning Hollywood film producer, the late Saul Zaentz.

Zaentz donated $35 million for the study, the largest donation The Harvard Graduate School Of Education has ever received.

More importantly, if you live in Massachusetts, you and your children could be a part of it.

Four-year-old Zaeden Rockette is thriving at his preschool in Boston.

"I knew because of the way the staff kind of embraced me," said Zaeden's mom Ashesha Rockette. "They made sure not only my son was getting nurtured but I was getting nurtured as well so I was able to be a better parent."

"We also as teachers go home before they come to school. It's not just going to school – 'here you are' - they get familiarized with the teachers before they come here so it's just like family. They love it, they love it," said ABCD Head Start teacher Karen Lugo.

Unlike four-year-olds at the ABCD Head Start Program in Boston we visited, 40% of children across Massachusetts are in some sort of informal preschool setting that educators say they don't know enough about. That's why the Harvard researchers would love to hear from Massachusetts children and their families and caregivers.

"It's an exciting study, it's a big opportunity for children of families and for the Commonwealth," said Nonie Lesaux.

That's where professors Stephanie Jones and Nonie Lesaux at the Harvard Graduate School of Education come in.

They're launching a study, 'The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative'.

They're gathering information from 5,000 families in Massachusetts with three and four-year-old children and plan to follow them over the next five years - all of the information will be confidential.

"It's a ground-breaking study that will influence conversations and policies around early education in the U.S. with the goal of doing better with all children and their families," said Lesaux.

Nationwide, preschool is expensive and the quality can be uneven.

"The challenge, actually, is only two in 10 experiences are high quality so only two in 10 children have access to a high quality early education experience," said Jones.

"We're going to use Massachusetts as the chance to document where children are day to day in formal and formal places of care and make links between the characteristics of those places and what we can learn about children's learning and growing," said Lesaux.

If you would like to participate in the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at Harvard, household surveys are going on right now just go to their website:

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