Early Childhood Interventions at Scale: Lessons for Current Policy Efforts
November 19, 2013 10:52 AM
By Nicole Fauteux
Policymakers considering President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All Initiative will want to consult three papers presented at APPAM's 2013 Fall Research Conference, which shed light on the short- and long-term impacts of early childhood education. The papers indicate that while public and private preschool programs can support children’s development prior to entering kindergarten, these gains do not necessarily persist.
The paper presented by Allison H. Friedman-Krauss from New York University employed data from the Head Start Impact Study, a randomized controlled trial. The paper explored the extent to which classroom quality moderates the impacts of hours spent in Head Start on children’s language skills, math skills, and behavior. Friedman-Krauss and her colleagues found a statistically significant positive variation in the math scores of children in high quality settings, but variations in other scores were not significant. She indicated that this might be attributable to the fact that the sample was skewed toward higher quality programs. The researchers plan to look next at differences among children attending full- and part-time Head Start programs in order to address the importance of dose in the program’s impact.
Mark Lipsey of Vanderbilt University shared findings from an ongoing study of the statewide Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten (TN-VPK) program for economically disadvantaged students. The study will follow students through the third grade to assess the impact of prekindergarten on the children’s cognitive achievement and behavior. Current data shows that the children receiving the intervention made significant cognitive gains and had fewer behavioral problems upon entering kindergarten, but that their differences with children in the control group fade out by the end of kindergarten or first grade. The research also revealed a more novel finding that should hearten policymakers in Tennessee: TN-VPK students were far less likely than their control group peers to be retained in kindergarten or first grade.
The question of why early cognitive gains made in preschool programs appear to fade by the end of kindergarten or first gradewas of particular interest to those in attendance. It was tackled head on in a paper by researchers from the University of Virginia. Scott Latham presented their work, which used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to look at the variables that may influence the speed at which cognitive gains fade following center-based early childhood programs (excluding Head Start).
The researchers found that math and reading test scores of students with and without prekindergarten educational experiences converged much more rapidly in 2010 than they did in 1998. One possible contributor: the steep rise in the availability of full-day kindergarten, which increased from 55% in 1998 to 81% in 2010.
Nevertheless, many questions remain. Do the effects of prekindergarten programs truly fade, or does the convergence of student scores arise from other factors that have not been studied? What is the experience of children in the control groups prior to entering school? Has kindergarten teaching evolved in influential ways, and how does additional time in the kindergarten classroom change the equation? The session raised more questions than it answered, but the researchers indicated that they are already tackling some of these and will be sharing their findings in the year ahead.