Summaries of Papers Presented at December 2007 Conference
WIC Turns 35: Program Effectiveness and Future Directions
Presenter: Barbara Devaney, senior vice president at Mathematica Policy Research
This paper launched the conference with a look back at the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and research on the program’s effectiveness. Regardless of any flaws in previous studies, Devaney concluded, “When these [study] limitations are considered, WIC’s effects persist.” Devaney’s recommendations for further research include careful and systematic documentation, and using data sets and research designs that will better support results.
The Nurse Family Partnership: From Trials to Practice
Presenter: David Olds, professor of pediatric medicine and director of the Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center’s School of Medicine
Studies of the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), a 30-year-old visiting nurse program that serves low-income, first-time mothers from pregnancy through child age 2, were conducted in Elmira, N.Y., Memphis and Denver, and show overwhelmingly positive results, said Olds. “It is one thing to have evidence that a program model has the potential to improve the lives of children and families,” Olds cautioned. “We must invest a corresponding effort in rigorous methods of program replication so we can have the assurance that evidence-based models are implemented well in community practice.”
Early Head Start
Presenter: Helen Raikes, professor of child, youth and family studies, University of Nebraska
Raikes presented preliminary findings of a research and evaluation study of the Early Head Start program’s effects on 3,001 children and families at 17 sites across the country. Raikes noted that the study could point to some positive outcomes for childhood development and parenting. African American children sustained the greatest benefits, and those occurred when a birth-to-age-3 program was followed by age-3-to-5 formal programs. In addition, families at the highest risk may need comprehensive services from birth to age 5 to maximize benefits.
Links between Early Child Care (Quality, Type, and Hours) and Child Developmental Outcomes: Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care
Presenter: Deborah Vandell, chair of the department of education at the University of California, Irvine
As one of the principal investigators on the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development begun in 1991, Vandell could unequivocally say that quality child care is elusive, particularly for low-income children. And while the study had some challenges, such as potential selection bias, omitted variables and multiple care arrangements, there are some conclusions that support the importance of quality child care, such as robust but small associations between quality of child care and child cognitive outcomes observed through grade 5. However, behavior problems tend to increase the longer time a child spends in nonparental care.
The Head Start Impact Study Interim Findings
Presenter: Ronna Cook, senior study director at Westat
The Head Start Impact Study was the first to evaluate this federal program using randomized assignment. The study consisted of 4,667 3- and 4-year-old children at 383 centers in 23 states. Preliminary first-year findings suggest that Head Start children from low-income families get a boost in school readiness skills, particularly in the areas of letter and word identification; no gains were noted in other skill areas, like early math and oral comprehension.
Small Miracles in Tulsa: The Effects of Universal Pre-K on Cognitive Development
Presenter: William Gormley, professor of government and public policy at Georgetown University
This study of Oklahoma’s universal pre-k program conducted in 2003 used regression discontinuity design, a research method that depends on a strict age cutoff date to assign participants to either the program or the comparison group. The study found that program participants have stronger pre-reading, pre-writing and pre-math skills than members of their comparison group. It also found that while disadvantaged children benefit most from the program, middle-class children also show considerable benefits. Tulsa is a high-quality program with early-childhood certified teachers with a college degree and low child-staff ratios—qualities that are consistent with other successful programs.
Lessons from the Evaluation of the Michigan School Readiness Program
Presenter: Lena Malofeeva, technical research associate, High/Scope Educational Research Foundation
Malofeeva presented results of an evaluation of a state-funded preschool initiative in Michigan. A notable outcome, she observed, was lower grade retention for children in the program; MSRP children have also been found “to be more ready for school and to possess more developed language, literacy and math skills.” The paper urged that “evaluations of state-funded preschool programs must consider child outcomes in contexts. That is, the characteristics about the children and programs that might enhance or hinder the program effect.” The study also recommended that future evaluations of MSRP employ more rigorous designs.
New Jersey Preschool Program
Presenter: W. Steven Barnett, professor of education economics and public policy and director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University
Barnett spoke about the longitudinal effects study of the Abbott Preschool Program, a court-mandated public program for children in the highest-poverty districts of New Jersey. The research “assessed program quality using multiple instruments.” Barnett concluded that it takes time to build quality, and Abbott quality is consistent across program locations (many classrooms are located in settings outside of public schools, such as child care centers). The study also found substantial effects on vocabulary, math and literacy skills. Key effects persist at least to the end of kindergarten; two years of pre-kindergarten produce larger gains.
School Readiness, Full-Day Kindergarten and Student Achievement: An Empirical Investigation
Presenter: Vi-Nhuan Le, behavioral scientist with RAND
This study analyzed data collected on more than 7,800 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, kindergarten class of 1998-99. Le noted that results should be interpreted cautiously because of model limitations; however, results indicated that there is “no evidence that full-day kindergarten participation enhanced achievement for low-income students. While full-day kindergarten programs may have some initial positive effects on student achievement, it is unknown whether the lack of enduring benefits and the potentially negative impact on nonacademic skills merit the costs associated with their implementation.” Like the NICHD study noted above, full-day kindergarten was associated with problem behaviors.
Small Classes in the Early Grades: One Policy—Multiple Outcomes
Presenter: Jeremy Finn, professor of education, State University of New York at Buffalo
Finn discussed Tennessee’s Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) in the context of the original large-scale experiment and the implications for education policy. This study used random assignment to look at the impact of small class size on children over a four-year period beginning in 1985, with a follow-up through high school. Finn noted that being in a small class resulted in academic benefits in every grade from kindergarten through third grade, especially for minority students, and benefits increased with each successive year in a small class. Fewer grade retentions also occurred.
Opportunity in Early Education—Improving Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes
Presenter: Andrew J. Mashburn, senior research scientist and assistant director of research methods at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, University of Virginia
Mashburn described what it takes to provide the essential emotional and instructional support and classroom organization to ensure quality preschool programs. His research differs from other studies in that the researchers developed an observation tool to assess the quality of teacher-child interactions and at the same time gleaned information about the research tool itself as well as methods for training teachers to improve their interactions with children.
The Cost Effectiveness of Public Investment in High-Quality Prekindergarten: A State Level Synthesis
Presenter: Robert Lynch, Everett E. Nuttle professor and chair of the department of economics, Washington College
Lynch’s study focuses on how early childhood education can save money for state and federal governments by estimating budget scenarios after investing in preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children. “Over time, governmental budget benefits alone outweigh the costs of high-quality pre-k; that is, high-quality pre-k pays for itself,” said Lynch, who didn’t use the traditional cost-benefit analysis, but instead showed the flow of costs and benefits year to year up to 2050.
(See also a review of Robert Lynch’s book Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation: Public Investment in High-Quality Prekindergarten in the December 2007 Region magazine, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.)
The Fiscal Returns to Public Investments in African-American Males
Presenter: Clive Belfield, associate director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University
Belfield studied the impact of interventions to increase the number of high school black male graduates. His work notes that given the current disparity in education between black and white males, investments in effective educational programs would raise the economic status of black males, and those investments would likely pay off for taxpayers.
Return to: Laying the foundation for other summaries.