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Bill Clinton's shout out raises profile of 20-year old home preschool instruction program
Former president cited research showing solid academic results from parental engagement program. - photo by Eric Schulzke
In a tribute to his wife at the Democratic Convention, former president Bill Clinton drew attention to a preschool home visit and parental education program that she helped bring to Arkansas in the 1980s, which remains to this day an example of how early education can help low-income kids.

Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters is described by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as being "designed for parents who lack confidence in their ability to prepare their children for school, including parents with past negative school experiences or limited financial resources."

The program targets 3-5 year-olds, offering hourlong home visits once a week for 30 weeks per year, using role playing to help parents gain confidence in helping their children learn.

"Hillary told me about a preschool program developed in Israel called HIPPY, Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters," Clinton said in his speech. "The idea was to teach low-income parents, even those that couldn't read, to be their children's first teachers.

"She said she thought it would work in Arkansas. I said, 'that's great, what are we going to do about it?' She said, 'Oh, I already did it.' I called the woman who started the program in Israel, she'll be here in about 10 days and help us get started."

"Clinton discovered the program many years ago when it came to the U.S.," Margie Margolies, the chairwoman of HIPPY USA's board, told NPR. "She was instrumental in growing the program in Arkansas when Bill was governor. She had been working for a way to boost the educational start of children in Arkansas, so she reached out to the Israeli founder to find out how to scale it up. Arkansas is still one of our largest programs."

HIPPY is one of seven such home approved by Department of Education based on research conducted by Mathematica, one of the nation's premier education policy research firms.

The highlight on HIPPY is timely because there is a strong nationwide push to make preschool available to low-income families. Some suggest home visit programs might provide more bang for the buck than traditional preschools.

"Although Margolies says that she wouldn't want to 'pit' HIPPY against universal pre-K programs," NPR noted, "the fact remains that the home-visit program seems to produce similar effects on kids at a lower cost per participant. And there are ancillary benefits, like connecting families to housing, health care and job assistance."