The Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation
Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center

Nurturing School-Ready Kids

The best way to increase high school performance and graduation rates is to improve education beginning from early childhood. Guided by this insight, The Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation teamed up with economists John List and Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago, and Roland Fryer of Harvard University, to create the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center (CHECC).

CHECC, located in Chicago Heights, Illinois, comprises both a free, all-day preschool for children ages three to five and an “academy” where parents learn the skills needed to support their children in school. Through a lottery, families are assigned to the preschool, the parent academy, or a control group. Within each group, the researchers are seeking to learn which methodologies work best and which incentives are most motivating:

  • Within the preschool, one group of children follows a curriculum emphasizing basic academic skills (e.g., numbers, letters, colors), while the other group's curriculum emphasizes social and emotional skills.
  • Within the parent academy, one group of parents receives immediate cash payments, while the other group receives deferred college funds based on their attendance and demonstrated improvement by their children.

With a $10 million contribution from The Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation, Dr. List and his colleagues are impacting close to 900 students. The researchers will track their development through elementary, middle, and high school, and even into their adult lives. Such longitudinal studies in education are rare, and provide important information to support a better understanding of the long-term effects of early childhood education. Now in its second year, CHECC is producing important early insights:

  • The preschool curriculum designed to focus on cognitive skills has produced 19 months worth of student gains in a 10-month period.
  • Children in both preschool curricula are outperforming the achievements of the average 5-year-old entering kindergarten. In the parent academy, children of those receiving cash incentives are close behind.
  • The parent academy program shows promise in our ability to coach parents and demonstrates the principal that good parenting can, in fact, be taught.

Living Lab

The Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center also serves as a living lab. Researchers from leading universities and from many different fields leverage CHECC’s experimental design to conduct short-term research of their own. See an overview of the research being conducted at CHECC.

Working Papers:

Visit the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center website. View the facebook page.

Read about CHECC’s establishment in Chicago Maroon and the University of Chicago magazine.





Leader Spotlight:
John List, Ph.D.

John List, Ph.D. John List is the Homer J. Livingston Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and is a faculty member of the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago. Dr. List has published several hundred scholarly articles spanning subjects as diverse as education, the environment, and sports memorabilia. Though the subjects he studies vary widely, they are united by a central belief in the value of using field experiments to develop new insights into behavioral economics. He was recently elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Partner Spotlight:
Thomas Amadio

Thomas AmadioTom Amadio is superintendent of Chicago Heights School District 170, where GECC is located. District 170 was also home to the Chicago Heights Miracle Project. Superintendent Amadio has been working with Dr. John List since 2008. “I believe in early intervention and I make sure that the district is supportive of GECC because it is too important to fail. We may not always win, but I promise we will never quit.”