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Early childhood

Jon Valant, Lindsay Weixler.

In order for school choice reforms to fulfill their potential, school choosers must be informed about their options. We conducted a randomized controlled trial during the school choice application period in New Orleans to assess the effects of providing information to parents. Families with children entering pre-K, kindergarten, or ninth grade were assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. A “performance” group received lists of the highest-performing schools or programs available (via U.S. mail, email, and text message). A “neighborhood” group received lists of the schools or programs in their home geographic zone. We find that the performance treatment made applicants significantly more likely to request high-performing schools, though the effects were concentrated among high school choosers. The performance treatment had especially strong effects among families of students with disabilities. The neighborhood treatment had only modest effects. We consider these findings in the context of questions about the role of information in school choice markets, as well as which families may be in particular need of support.

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Rebecca Unterman, Christina Weiland.

While there is a consensus that attending preschool better prepares children for kindergarten, evidence on the factors that sustain the preschool boost into the early elementary years is still emerging.  To add to this literature, we use lottery data from applicants to oversubscribed schools in Boston Public Schools (BPS) prekindergarten program to estimate variation in the effects of the program across school sites through the end of third grade.  Student outcomes include children’s kindergarten-through-second-grade retention, kindergarten-through-third-grade special education placement, and third-grade state English Language Arts and math test scores.  We find statistically significant variation in effects in all student outcomes and we predict this variation with multiple proxies for early elementary school quality.  We find that the academic proficiency of third-graders within the schools for which prekindergarten children competed is most strongly associated with prekindergarten program effects. Prekindergarten gains persisted if students applied to and won a seat in a higher-quality elementary school. Our findings appear to be driven by the schools themselves and not by student selection in higher-scoring schools, nor by the counterfactual.  These findings imply that policymakers and practitioners interested in sustained gains may need to also invest in improving the quality of children’s K-3 experience.

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Appendices266.36 KB

Heather C. Hill, Erica Litke, Kathleen Lynch.

Background:
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.

Purpose:
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.

Participants:
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.

Findings:
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.

Conclusions:
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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Christopher Doss, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb.

This study assesses the effects of two text-messaging programs for parents that aim to support the development of math skills in prekindergarten students. One program focuses purely on math, while the other takes an identical approach but focuses on a combination of math, literacy, and social-emotional skills. We find no evidence that the math-only program benefits children’s development. However, the combination program shows greater promise, particularly for girls. Quantile regressions indicate that the effects are concentrated in the lower half of the outcome distribution. Results imply that girls may have started the year behind boys in math and caught up to and even surpassed boys when their parents have access to the program that combines topics. Our results also provide evidence that the structure of behavioral interventions can affect who benefits from the program, sometimes in unexpected ways, to produce meaningful differences in outcomes. We discuss and provide evidence for various hypotheses that could explain these differences.

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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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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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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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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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