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Early childhood

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Irma Arteaga, Andreas de Barros, Alejandro J. Ganimian.

Home-visitation programs have improved child development in low- and middle-income countries, but they are costly to scale due to their reliance on trained workers. We evaluated an inexpensive and low-tech alternative with 2,433 caregivers of children aged 6 to 30 months served by 250 public childcare centers in Uttarakhand, India: automated phone calls offering parenting advice. The intervention was implemented largely as intended, with more than two-thirds of caregivers completing at least 10 calls. Yet, counter to expectations, it had negative but statistically insignificant effects on caregivers’ knowledge and interactions with their children, reduced their self-efficacy (by 0.11 standard deviations), and increased their anxiety (by 0.10 standard deviations). Consistent with this pattern, it had precisely estimated null effects on children’s development and language. An analysis of program materials suggests four reasons why the program may not have had the desired effects.

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Jordan S. Berne, Brian A. Jacob, Tareena Musaddiq, Anna Shapiro, Christina Weiland.

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is a relatively recent entrant into the U.S. early education landscape, combining features of public pre-K and regular kindergarten. We provide the first estimates of the impact of Michigan’s TK program on 3rd grade test scores. Using an augmented regression discontinuity design, we find that TK improves 3rd grade math scores by 0.29 standard deviations relative to a counterfactual that includes other formal and informal learning options. This impact is notably large relative to the prior pre-K literature. Estimates for English Language Arts (ELA) are imprecise but suggestive of a positive effect as well.

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Kenji Kitamura, Dana Charles McCoy, Sharon Wolf.

Children's approaches to learning (AtL) are widely recognized as a critical predictor of educational outcomes, especially in early childhood. Nevertheless, there remains a dearth of understanding regarding the dimensionality of AtL, the reciprocal dynamics between AtL and learning outcomes, and how AtL operates in non-Western contexts. This paper aims to extend the existing AtL literature by both conceptually and empirically investigating the dimensionality of the AtL scale of the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA) – a globally used measure of early childhood development – based on data from Ghanaian children newly enrolled in formal schooling. Additionally, our research explores reciprocal relationships between AtL subconstructs and academic skills over time. Our analysis identifies two dimensions within the IDELA AtL scale: Self-Regulation (SR) and Motivation. We found that children with higher levels of SR early in schooling demonstrated better literacy and numeracy skills in later grades compared to their peers with low early SR, whereas children's motivation did not predict subsequent literacy and numeracy skills. This study enhances understanding of AtL in non-Western contexts, with implications for culturally appropriate support for children’s engagement in learning.

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Jordan S. Berne, Katia Cordoba Garcia, Brian A. Jacob, Tareena Musaddiq, Samuel Owusu, Anna Shapiro, Christina Weiland.

In recent years, several states have expanded a new publicly funded learning option: Transitional Kindergarten (TK). TK programs bridge prekindergarten and kindergarten in their eligibility, requirements, and design. We use Michigan’s TK program as a case study on the fit of this new entrant in the early learning landscape. Michigan’s program is well suited for this purpose because it contains most of the research-aligned program design elements of other large-scale TK programs across the country. Using statewide administrative data, we describe which districts offer TK when doing so is optional, the characteristics of children who enroll in TK at four and five years old, and substitution patterns between TK and alternative learning options. Broadly, we find TK in Michigan closes some socioeconomic gaps in early program enrollment while exacerbating others. Specifically, districts with larger proportions of White students and smaller proportions of economically disadvantaged students are more likely to offer TK than other districts. Within districts that do not offer TK in every school, TK is targeted to schools with more economically disadvantaged students. Among preschool-age children, those from non-economically disadvantaged families are more likely to enroll in TK than their peers; among kindergarten-age children, there is little difference in take-up by family income. Finally, we find evidence of substitution, with some children enrolling in TK instead of state-funded prekindergarten or instead of enrolling in kindergarten early, though with no evidence that public slots decline overall. Our findings have implications for addressing the fragmented early education landscape when expanding programs.

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Kathleen Lynch, Monica Lee, Susanna Loeb.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on preschool children’s school readiness skills remains understudied. This research investigates Head Start preschool children’s early numeracy, literacy, and executive function outcomes during a pandemic-affected school year. Study children (N = 336 assessed at fall baseline; N = 237-250 assessed in spring depending on outcome; fall baseline sample: mean age = 51 months; 46% Hispanic; 36% Black Non-Hispanic; 52% female) in a network of Head Start centers in four states (Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) experienced low in-person preschool exposure compared to national pre-pandemic norms. Children experienced fall to spring score gains during the pandemic-affected year of 0.05 SD in executive function, 0.27 SD in print knowledge, and 0.45-0.71 SD in early numeracy skills. Descriptively, for two of the three early numeracy domains measured, spring test score outcomes were stronger among children who attended more in-person preschool. We discuss implications for future research and policy.

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Kathryn E. Gonzalez, Olivia Healy, Luke Miratrix, Terri J. Sabol.

Despite considerable evidence on the links between average classroom quality and children’s learning, the importance of variation in quality is not well understood. We examined whether three measures of variation in observed classroom quality over the school year – overall variation in quality, teacher-specific trends in quality, and instability in quality – were associated with children’s language, literacy, and regulatory outcomes. We also examined whether variation in quality was associated with teachers’ participation in coaching. Overall variation and instability in emotional support and classroom organization over the year were negatively associated with children’s regulatory and literacy outcomes. Participation in coaching was linked to increased variation only in instructional support. We discuss implications for policies focused on improving classroom quality.

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Kalena E. Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb, Carly D. Robinson.

This paper presents the results from a randomized controlled trial of Chapter One, an early elementary reading tutoring program that embeds part-time tutors into the classroom to provide short bursts of 1:1 instruction. Eligible kindergarten students were randomly assigned to receive supplementary tutoring during the 2021-22 school year (N=818). The study occurred in a large Southeastern district serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students. Students assigned to the program were over two times more likely to reach the program’s target reading level by the end of kindergarten (70% vs. 32%). The results were largely homogenous across student populations and extended to district-administered assessments. These findings provide promising evidence of an affordable and sustainable approach for delivering personalized reading tutoring at scale.

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Anamarie A. Whitaker, Margaret Burchinal, Jade M. Jenkins, Drew H. Bailey, Tyler W. Watts, Greg J. Duncan, Emma R. Hart, Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg.

High-quality preschool programs are heralded as effective policy solutions to promote low-income children’s development and life-long wellbeing. Yet evaluations of recent preschool programs produce puzzling findings, including negative impacts, and divergent, weaker results than demonstration programs implemented in the 1960s and 70s. We provide potential explanations for why modern preschool programs have become less effective, focusing on changes in instructional practices and counterfactual conditions. We also address popular theories that likely do not explain weakening program effectiveness, such as lower preschool quality and low-quality subsequent environments. The field must take seriously the smaller positive, null, and negative impacts from modern programs and strive to understand why effects differ and how to improve program effectiveness through rigorous, longitudinal research.

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Henry T. Woodyard, Tim R. Sass, Ishtiaque Fazlul.

Numerous studies have demonstrated a strong link between participation in pre-K programs and both short-term student achievement and positive later-life outcomes.  Existing evidence primarily stems from experimental studies of small-scale, high-quality programs conducted in the 1960s and 1970s and analyses of the federal Head Start program.  Meanwhile, evidence on state-funded pre-K programs, with no income restrictions, is scant and inconclusive.  Using enrollment lotteries for over-subscribed school-based sites in Georgia’s universal pre-K program, we analyze the impact of participation on elementary school outcomes.  Lottery winners enter kindergarten more prepared in both math and reading than non-winning peers. Gains fade by the end of kindergarten, and some negative achievement effects emerge by grade 4. Free-and-reduced-price meal (FRPM) students benefit more compared to non-FRPM students in later grades, suggesting greater benefits from attendance for disadvantaged students.  Although we find no effects for discipline, lottery winners had one fewer absence each grade after kindergarten.

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Shaun M. Dougherty, Mary M. Smith, Beth Kelly.

Prior research has clearly established the substantial expected payoffs to investments in early childhood education. However, the ability to deliver early childhood programs differs across communities with access to high quality programing especially hard to establish in rural communities. We study one program, Early Steps to School Success, to understand whether the provision of home visiting and book exchange programs in rural Kentucky can influence kindergarten readiness. Linking program data with the state longitudinal data system in Kentucky we create multiple comparison groups by matching children on known program qualification indicators to estimate whether Early Steps program participation was related to school readiness. Our estimates suggest that program participation resulted in small improvements to children’s kindergarten readiness, as measured by the Brigance kindergarten readiness assessment overall score and sub-scores in language, cognitive, and physical development. Results are not sensitive to our choice of comparison group, though they appear driven by the experiences of children who participate from birth through age five or from ages three-to-five only. Our findings suggest that the Early Steps home visiting intervention may be a worthwhile intervention for improving kindergarten preparedness for children living in rural contexts.

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