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Early childhood

Heather C. Hill, Erica Litke, Kathleen Lynch.

For nearly three decades, policy-makers and researchers in the United States have promoted more intellectually rigorous standards for mathematics teaching and learning. Yet, to date, we have limited descriptive evidence on the extent to which reform-oriented instruction has been enacted at scale.

The purpose of the study is to examine the prevalence of reform-aligned mathematics instructional practices in five U.S. school districts. We also seek to describe the range of instruction students experience by presenting case studies of teachers at high, medium and low levels of reform alignment.

We draw on 1,735 video-recorded lessons from 329 elementary teachers in these five U.S. urban districts.

Research Design:
We present descriptive analyses of lesson scores on a mathematics-focused classroom observation instrument. We also draw upon interviews with district personnel, rater-written lesson summaries, and lesson video in order to develop case studies of instructional practice.

We find that teachers in our sample do use reform-aligned instructional practices, but that they do so within the confines of traditional lesson formats. We also find that the implementation of these instructional practices varies in quality. Furthermore, the prevalence and strength of these practices corresponds to the coherence of district efforts at instructional reform.

Our findings suggest that unlike other studies in which reform-oriented instruction rarely occurred (e.g. Kane & Staiger, 2012), reform practices do appear to some degree in study classrooms. In addition, our analyses suggest that implementation of these reform practices corresponds to the strength and coherence of district efforts to change instruction.

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Anna Shapiro.

Much of the literature estimating disproportionality in special education identification rates has focused on socioeconomic status, race, and gender. However, recent evidence suggests that a student’s school starting age also impacts the likelihood they receive special education services, particularly in the early grades. I build on the evidence that the youngest students in a grade more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and more likely to be placed in special education by estimating the effect of school starting age on special education identification in Michigan. I also estimate heterogeneity in this effect by student characteristics and across school districts. Using a regression discontinuity design exploiting variation in kindergarten starting age generated by a statewide kindergarten entrance age policy, I find that the youngest students in a kindergarten cohort are 40% more likely (3.3 percentage points, p<0.001) to be placed in special education than are the oldest students, and that this effect persists through eighth grade. Despite little evidence of heterogeneity by gender, race, or socioeconomic status, I find some suggestive evidence that the effect is particularly large for white boys in the early elementary grades and for black girls in the later elementary grades. I find no evidence that these effects vary across school districts. Finally, I find exploratory evidence of variation by school cohort age composition, suggesting these effects are driven moreso by relative age comparisons than absolute age developmental differences. Given the importance of special education services to the academic success of children with disabilities, these findings have implications for schools and for policymakers seeking to improve special education program provision.

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Scott Latham, Sean P. Corcoran, Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, Jennifer L. Jennings.

New York City’s universal pre-kindergarten program, which increased full-day enrollment from 19,000 to almost 70,000 children, is ambitious in both scale and implementation speed. We provide new evidence on the distribution of pre-K quality in NYC by student race/ethnicity, and investigate the extent to which observed differences are associated with the spatial distribution of higher-quality providers. Relative to other jurisdictions, we find the average quality of public pre-K providers is high. However, we identify large disparities in the average quality of providers experienced by black and white students, which is partially explained by differential proximity to higher-quality providers. Taken together, current racial disparities in the quality of pre-K providers may limit the program’s ability to reduce racial achievement gaps.

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Weilin Li, Greg J. Duncan, Katherine Magnuson, Holly S. Schindler, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Jimmy Leak.

This paper uses meta-analytic techniques to estimate the separate effects of the starting age, program duration, and persistence of impacts of early childhood education programs on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. It concentrates on studies published before the wide scale penetration of state-pre-K programs. Specifically, data are drawn from 67 high-quality evaluation studies conducted between 1960 and 2007, which provide 993 effect sizes for analyses. When weighted for differential precision, effect sizes averaged .26 sd at the end of these programs. We find larger effect sizes for programs starting in infancy/toddlerhood than in the preschool years and, surprisingly, smaller average effect sizes at the end of longer as opposed to shorter programs. Our findings suggest that, on average, impacts decline geometrically following program completion, losing nearly half of their size within one year after the end of treatment. Taken together, these findings reflect a moderate level of effectiveness across a wide range of center-based programs and underscore the need for innovative intervention strategies to produce larger and more persistent impacts.

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Marjorie Wechsler, David Kirp, Titilayo Tinubu Ali, Madelyn Gardner, Anna Maier, Hanna Melnick, Patrick M. Shields.

Although there is considerable research on the elements of high-quality preschool and its many benefits, particularly for low-income children and English learners, little information is available to policymakers about how to convert their visions of good early education into on-the-ground reality. This study fills that gap by describing and analyzing how four states—Michigan, West Virginia, Washington, and North Carolina—have built high-quality early education systems. Among the common elements of their success are strategies that prioritize quality and continuous improvement, invest in training and coaching for program staff, coordinate the administration of birth-through-grade-3 programs, strategically combine multiple funding sources to increase access and improve quality, and create broad-based coalitions and support.

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Beth Meloy, Madelyn Gardner, Linda Darling-Hammond.

Research showing that high-quality preschool benefits children’s early learning and later life outcomes has led to increased state engagement in public preschool. However, mixed results from evaluations of two programs—Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program and Head Start—have left many policymakers unsure about how to ensure productive investments. This report presents the most rigorous evidence on the effects of preschool and clarifies how the findings from Tennessee and Head Start relate to the larger body of research showing that high-quality preschool enhances children’s school readiness by supporting substantial early learning gains in comparison to children who do not experience preschool and can have lasting impacts far into children’s later years of school and life. Therefore, the issue is not whether preschool “works,” but how to design and implement programs that ensure public preschool investments consistently deliver on their promise.

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Andrew C. Barr, Chloe Gibbs.

Despite substantial evidence that resources and outcomes are transmitted across generations, there has been limited inquiry into the extent to which anti-poverty programs actually disrupt the cycle of bad outcomes. We explore how the effects of the United States’ largest early childhood program, Head Start, transfer across generations. We leverage the rollout of this federally funded, means-tested preschool program to estimate the effect of early childhood exposure among mothers on their children’s long-term outcomes. We find evidence of intergenerational transmission of effects in the form of increased educational attainment, reduced teen pregnancy, and reduced criminal engagement in the second generation.

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Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland, Christine Pitts, Margaret Burchinal.

Students’ level of academic skills at school entry are a strong predictor of later academic success, and focusing on improving these skills during the preschool years has been a priority during the past ten years. Evidence from two prior nationally representative studies indicated that incoming kindergarteners’ math and literacy skills were higher in 2010 than 1998, but no national studies have examined trends since 2010. This study examines academic skills at kindergarten entry from 2010 and 2017 using data from over 2 million kindergarten students. Results indicated kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but that inequalities at school entry by race/ethnicity and school poverty level have decreased during this period.

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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. The meta-analysis yields small positive interaction estimates ranging from approximately .00 to .04, depending on the specification. The specification curve analyses yield interaction estimates of approximately 0. Results suggest that the current mix of methods used to test the sustaining environments hypothesis cannot reliably detect realistically sized effects. Our recommendations are to combine large sample sizes with strong causal identification strategies, and to study combinations of interventions that have a strong probability of showing large main effects.

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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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