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Early childhood

Jade M. Jenkins, Tutrang Nguyen.

Child care subsidies play an important role in stabilizing parental employment and helping low- income families access care. With limited federal requirements under CCDBG, states developed divergent subsidy program policies. Our study examines how variations in six state policy levers that capture CCDF administrative burdens and generosity relate to stability in children’s care in the CCDF program, known as subsidy “spells.”: (1) length of eligibility redetermination; (2) reporting requirements for income changes; (3) grace period for care before termination; (4) provider reimbursement rates; (5) parent copay amounts; and (6) difference between initial and continuing eligibility income thresholds. We exploit states’ changes in these policies during a 10- year period (2004-2013) using state fixed effects analyses to identify their impact on spell length. We find that administrative burdens robustly affect child care spell length; increasing states’ redetermination period length by one month increased state median subsidy spell length by 1.4 weeks, but requiring all changes in family income to be reported while enrolled in CCDF decreased spell length by 2.3 weeks. Switching to a 12-month redetermination period increased median spell length by 30%. CCDF policy generosity was not related to spell length. Results are discussed in the context of the 2014 CCDBG reauthorization.

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Jade M. Jenkins, C. Kevin Fortner.

We provide causal estimates of the effects of delayed kindergarten entry on achievement outcomes by exploiting a policy change in the birthdate enrollment cutoff in North Carolina that forced children born in a six-week window to redshirt. Using multiple peer group comparisons, we identify impacts on achievement and gifted or disability identifications in third through fifth grades. Delayed entry provides small benefits to students’ math and reading achievement, and reduced identification of a disability; these impacts operate through cohort position and age advantages, and not from hold-out year experiences. Redshirting differentially benefitted low-income students, but further disadvantaged non-white students.

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Francis Pearman, Matthew Springer, Mark Lipsey, Mark Lachowicz, Dale Farran, Walker Swain.

The sustaining environments thesis hypothesizes that PreK effects are more likely to persist into later grades if children experience high-quality learning environments in the years subsequent to PreK. This study tests this hypothesis using data from a statewide PreK randomized experiment in Tennessee that found positive effects at the end of PreK that did not persist past kindergarten. These data were combined with teacher observation and school-level value-added scores from Tennessee’s formal evaluation system to determine whether positive effects of PreK persisted for the subgroup of students exposed to higher-quality learning environments between kindergarten and 3rd-grade. Neither exposure to highly effective teachers nor attending a high-quality school was sufficient by itself to explain differences in achievement between PreK participants and non-participants in 3rd-grade. However, this study found evidence that having both was associated with a sustained advantage for PreK participants in both math and ELA that lasted through at least 3rd-grade. Notably, however, very few children were exposed to high-quality learning environments after PreK, suggesting that maximizing PreK investments may require attending to the quality of learning environments during PreK and beyond.

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Drew H. Bailey, Jade M. Jenkins, Daniela Alvarez-Vargas.

The sustaining environments hypothesis refers to the popular idea, stemming from theories in developmental, cognitive, and educational psychology, that the long-term success of early educational interventions is contingent on the quality of the subsequent learning environment. Several studies have investigated whether specific kindergarten classroom and other elementary school factors account for patterns of persistence and fadeout of early educational interventions. These analyses focus on the statistical interaction between an early educational intervention – usually whether the child attended preschool – and several measures of the quality of the subsequent educational environment. The key prediction of the sustaining environments hypothesis is a positive interaction between these two variables. To quantify the strength of the evidence for such effects, we meta-analyze existing studies that have attempted to estimate interactions between preschool and later educational quality in the United States. We then attempt to establish the consistency of the direction and a plausible range of estimates of the interaction between preschool attendance and subsequent educational quality by using a specification curve analysis in a large, nationally representative dataset that has been used in several recent studies of the sustaining environments hypothesis. Both analyses yield interaction estimates of approximately 0. We consider a range of plausible explanations, including 1) the null hypothesis is true, 2) we did not have statistical power to detect interactions of a realistic magnitude, 3) model misspecification because of theoretical ambiguity, and 4) heterogeneity of these interactions across treatments, contexts, and children. We offer a set of recommendations for future research on the sustaining environments hypothesis.

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Lindsay Weixler, Jon Valant, Daphna Bassok, Justin B. Doromal, Alica Gerry.

The early childhood enrollment process involves searching for programs, applying, verifying eligibility(for publicly funded seats), and enrolling. Many families do not complete the process. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess strategies for communicating with families as they verify eligibility. Working with administrators in New Orleans, we randomly assigned families to receive either: (1) the district’s usual, modest communications, (2) the usual communications plus weekly text-message reminders formal in tone, or (3) the usual communications plus weekly text-messages reminders friendly and personal in tone. Text-message reminders increased verification rates by seven percentage points (regardless of tone), and personalized messages increased enrollment rates for some groups. The exchanges between parents and administrators reveal the key obstacles that parents confronted.

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Kalena Cortes, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, David Song, Ben York.

The time children spend with their parents affects their development. Parenting programs can help parents use that time more effectively. Text-messaged-based parenting curricula have proven an effective means of supporting positive parenting practices by providing easy and fun activities that reduce informational and behavioral barriers. These programs may be more effective if delivered during times when parents are particularly in need of support, such as after work, or, alternatively when parents have more time to interact with their child, such as on a day off of work. This study compares the effects of an early childhood text-messaging program sent during the weekend to the same program sent on weekdays. We find that sending the text messages on the weekend is, on average, more beneficial to children’s literacy and math development. This effect is particularly strong for initially lower achieving children, while the weekday texts show some benefits for higher achieving children on higher order skills. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the parents of lower achieving students, on average, face such high barriers during weekdays that supports are not enough to overcome these barriers, while for parents of higher achieving students, weekday texts are more effective because weekdays are more challenging, but not so difficult as to be untenable for positive parenting. In sum, the findings suggest that parenting support works best when parents have time, attention, and need.

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Allison Atteberry, Daphna Bassok, Vivian C. Wong.

This study is a randomized control trial of full- versus half-day pre-kindergarten in a school district near Denver, Colorado. Four-year-old children were randomly assigned an offer of half-day (four days/week) or full-day (five days/week) pre-k that increased class time by over 600 hours. The offer of full-day pre-k produced substantial, positive effects on children’s receptive vocabulary skills (0.267 standard deviations) by the end of pre-k. Among children enrolled in district schools, full-day participants also outperformed their peers on teacher-reported measures of cognition, literacy, math, and physical development. At kindergarten entry, children offered pre-k still outperformed peers on a widely-used measure of basic literacy. The study provides the first rigorous evidence on the impact of full-day preschool on children’s school readiness skills.

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Gary T. Henry, Shelby M. McNeill, Erica Harbatkin.

This article contributes to the literature on school turnaround by examining the effect of the North Carolina Transformation (NCT) initiative, which was implemented in 75 low-performing schools after the state’s efforts to turn around the lowest performing schools under Race to the Top ended, on student reading score growth in grades K-3. Reading score growth is measured using the mCLASS Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy (DIBELS) assessment. Utilizing a regression discontinuity design, we find that the NCT intervention had null effects on K-3 reading score growth across both the 2016 and 2017 school years. 

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Remy Pages, Dylan Lukes, Drew Bailey, Greg J. Duncan.

Using an additional decade of CNLSY data, this study replicated and extended Deming’s (2009) evaluation of Head Start’s life-cycle skill formation impacts in three ways. Extending the measurement interval for Deming’s adulthood outcomes, we found no statistically significant impacts on earnings and mixed evidence of impacts on other adult outcomes. Applying Deming’s sibling comparison framework to more recent birth cohorts born to CNLSY mothers revealed mostly negative Head Start impacts. Combining all cohorts shows generally null impacts on school-age and early adulthood outcomes.

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Tyler Watts, Greg J. Duncan, Mariela Rivas.

We present a reanalysis of the Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (TNVPK), a state-funded program designed to promote the school readiness of 4-year-olds from low-income families. Oversubscribed programs used a lottery to randomly assign prospective enrollees a chance to attend TNVPK. We found that assignment to the program had largely null effects on measures of behavior, attendance, and retention collected during elementary school. TNVPK increased enrollment in special education by 4% between kindergarten and grade 3, and generated negative but generally statistically insignificant impacts on third-grade state test scores. We explore reasons for fadeout as well as threats to internal validity.

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