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The Abecedarian Project.

The Abecedarian project offers some additional evidence from a randomized
trial with a sample of 104 at age 21 follow-up. The Abecedarian Preschool Project provided low-income
African-American children with full-day educational child care from birth to age 5, and has demonstrated
important long-term benefits for children such as higher rates of high school graduation and college
attendance. However, in an early study, teachers rated 59 children from the project to be more aggressive
during the first three years of primary school than control group children. Although the teachers did
not dislike or find the Abecedarian children harder to manage than children from the control group, the
Abecedarian children were more likely to kick, push, and hit in a variety of settings (such as lunchroom
and classroom) than children from the control group. By the third year in public school, the aggression
level of students who had participated in the Abecedarian program began to decline, and the level for
children in the control group began to rise slightly.
There were no differences in aggressive behavior among children in the Abecedarian control group,
although their exposure to child care ranged from none at all to nearly five years. Of course, the sample
size is quite small making it difficult to detect small effects. The study’s author suggests that the program’s
curriculum was an important factor in explaining the difference between treatment and control group
aggression. In the early years of Abecedarian, the program emphasized academic growth in its curriculum
activities. When early results showing elevated aggressive behavior were observed, the program’s designers
changed the curriculum to reinforce prosocial alternatives, and they brought in a consultant to work with
teachers on methods of behavior control. Subsequent cohorts of children enrolled in the program showed
much lower rates of aggressive behavior. It is noteworthy that large positive effects on school success were
found across all cohorts.

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