ERIC Identifier: ED458046
Publication Date: 2001-11-00
Author: Schweinhart, Lawrence J.
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Recent Evidence on Preschool Programs. ERIC Digest.
Growing evidence indicates that high-quality preschool child development
programs contribute to the short- and long-term development of children living
in poverty. Recent literature reviews summarize this evidence (Barnett, in
press; Currie, 2000; Karoly et al., 1998). Some recent studies have been
experimental, involving random assignment of children and families to program
and no-program groups and providing the most unequivocal evidence of program
effects. Other recent studies have been quasi- experimental, involving a
no-program group not randomly assigned or no comparison group at all; these
studies never completely rule out alternative explanations, but they do permit
examination of evidence in situations where experimental design was impossible.
This Digest summarizes recently reported experimental and quasi-experimental
studies of Head Start and similar programs.
RECENTLY REPORTED EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES
An evaluation of the
Head Start Comprehensive Child Development Program (Goodson et al., 2000)
randomly assigned 4,410 children and families living in poverty at 21 sites to
this program or no program and followed them for 5 years. Although the program's
comprehensive services centered on the assignment to each family of a case
manager to help them meet their needs, only 58% of the program group actually
met with a case manager, as did 18% of the control group, due to participation
in other programs. Perhaps partly because this group difference in case
management was only 40% rather than the 100% that might be expected, the study
found no statistically significant effects on either child or parent outcomes,
raising the question of whether families who use early childhood programs really
profit from case management.
An evaluation of some 3,000 infants and toddlers and their low-income
families in the Early Head Start program, the federal program that began in
1995, has found program effects through age 2 (Administration on Children,
Youth, and Families, 2001b). When compared to a randomly assigned control group,
Early Head Start children did modestly but significantly better on measures of
cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, and their parents scored
significantly better than control-group parents on measures of parenting
behavior and knowledge of infant-toddler development. The evaluation is
continuing, to see if these early effects are sustained as children grow older.
Two evaluations of the Even Start Family Literacy Program (Planning and
Evaluation Service, 1998) randomly assigned children and families to Even Start
or not. Somewhat greater percentages of the Even Start group than the control
group received various services, for example, 95% versus 60% participating in
early childhood education. Consequently, both groups experienced gains, with the
Even Start group experiencing some greater gains-the pattern for adult literacy,
adult GED attainment (22% vs. 6% in one of the studies), cognitive stimulation
and emotional support by the family, and children's vocabulary. Even Start
children improved their basic school readiness skills (e.g., recognition of
colors, shapes, and sizes), but their non-Even Start peers caught up with them a
year later, a common finding for intellectual achievement in preschool programs.
The Carolina Abecedarian Project study randomly assigned 111 infants from
low-income families to program and no-program groups and collected data on 104
of them at age 21 (Campbell et al., 2001). The full-time child care program
focused on game-like educational activities to foster young children's
cognitive, motor, and social development. This is the first such study to find
program benefits throughout participants' schooling on their intellectual
performance and academic achievement. Other findings include more participants
being in school at age 21 (40% vs. 20%), more ever attending a 4-year college
(35% vs. 14%), and a higher average age at birth of first child (19.1 vs. 17.7).
In 1997, the U.S. General Accounting Office observed that no studies had
evaluated effects of typical (rather than model) Head Start programs using
experimental designs that randomly assigned children to program and no-program
groups. Head Start's 1998 reauthorization empaneled an Advisory Committee on
Head Start Research and Evaluation (1999) to recommend a framework for studying
the impact of Head Start. The National Head Start Impact Study, now under way,
should provide useful results in a few years.
RECENTLY REPORTED QUASI-EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES
FACES is a
continuing longitudinal study of 3,200 children and families who entered 40
representative Head Start programs in fall 1997. Although the study did not have
a no-program group for comparison, results (Administration on Children, Youth,
and Families, 2001a) showed that Head Start children improved their vocabulary,
writing skills, and social skills more than expected on these measures for
children their age and continued to have better literacy and mathematics skills
during their kindergarten year. Parents were found to be very satisfied with
Head Start, more so than for other federal programs. Head Start classrooms
received high-quality ratings by trained outside observers, and most Head Start
teachers were found to have the requisite teaching qualifications.
Gilliam and Zigler (2000) report that as of 1998, evaluations had been
conducted on 13 of the 33 state preschool programs. They summarize these
evaluations as finding modest support for positive program effects on children's
developmental performance, school performance and attendance, and reduced
percentages of children held back a grade. Similarly, an evaluation of North
Carolina's Smart Start programs, not included in this review, found evidence of
modest improvements in children's skills as rated by teachers at kindergarten
entry (Smart Start Evaluation Team, 1999).
Oden, Schweinhart, and Weikart (2000) studied 622 22-year-olds born in
poverty who had or had not attended Head Start. Of the females at the site that
permitted such comparisons, more of the Head Start graduates graduated from high
school or got a GED (95% vs. 81%), and only one-third as many had been arrested
for a crime (5% vs. 15%). At the same site, the study compared children who had
participated in regular Head Start classes to children in Head Start classes
using the High/Scope curriculum framework, in which teachers systematically
supported children's intentional learning activities. Both males and females who
had experienced High/Scope rather than regular classes achieved a higher
elementary grade point average (3.2 vs. 2.4 on a 4-point scale) and had only 38%
as many criminal convictions by age 22 (0.54 vs. 1.41 convictions per person).
Independent analyses suggested that program effects were probably
Currie and Thomas (1999) examined the effects of Head Start in the
representative National Longitudinal Survey of Youth by comparing Head Start
children to their siblings who did not attend Head Start. They identified who
had attended Head Start by asking the children's mothers. Focusing on 750 Latino
children, they found that relative to their siblings, Head Start children had
higher vocabulary and mathematics test scores and were less likely to repeat a
grade. Applying the same method to the nationally representative Panel Study of
Income Dynamics data, Garces, Thomas, and Currie (2000) found long-term effects
of Head Start programs in a sample of 255 young adults on the high school
completion and college attendance of Whites and the crime convictions of African
A follow-up study of the federally funded Chicago Child-Parent Centers
(Reynolds et al., 2001) examined 1,539 20-year-olds, two-thirds of whom attended
this comprehensive, part-day preschool program at ages 3 and 4. Program
participants achieved a higher rate of high school completion (50% vs. 39%) and
lower rate of juvenile arrests (17% vs. 25%). The program provided an economic
return of $7.10 per dollar invested, $3.83 of it to taxpayers.
In summary, recently reported short-term studies have questioned the value of
case management as part of early childhood programs, provided guarded support
for infant- toddler programs, and found that programs for 4-year-olds contribute
to children's readiness to enter school and remain on grade. Recently reported
long-term studies have found evidence of good preschool programs improving high
school graduation rates and reducing the criminal activity of certain categories
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Administration on Children, Youth, and
Families. Commissioner's Office of Research and Evaluation and the Head Start
Bureau. (2001a). HEAD START FACES: LONGITUDINAL FINDINGS ON PROGRAM PERFORMANCE.
THIRD PROGRESS REPORT. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health & Human
Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Commissioner's Office of
Research and Evaluation and the Head Start Bureau. (2001b). Building their
futures: How Early Head Start programs are enhancing the lives of infants and
toddlers in low-income families: Summary report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Health & Human Services. Available:
Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation. (1999, October).
EVALUATING HEAD START: A RECOMMENDED FRAMEWORK FOR STUDYING THE IMPACT OF THE
HEAD START PROGRAM. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health & Human
Services. Available: http://www2.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/hsb/hsreac/octrep.htm.%20
Barnett, W. S. (in press). Does Head Start have lasting cognitive effects? In
E. Zigler & S. Styfco (Eds.), THE HEAD START DEBATES (FRIENDLY AND
OTHERWISE). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Campbell, F. A., Pungello, E. P., Miller-Johnson, S., Burchinal, M., &
Ramey, C. T. (2001). The development of cognitive and academic abilities: Growth
curves from an early childhood educational experiment. DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY,
37(2), 231-242. See also: http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~abc/.
Currie, J. (2000, April). EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION PROGRAMS: WHAT DO WE
KNOW? Chicago: Joint Center for Poverty Research. Available:
Currie, J., & Thomas, D. (1999). Does Head Start help Hispanic children?
JOURNAL OF PUBLIC ECONOMICS, 74(2), 235-262.
Garces, E., Thomas, D., & Currie, J. (2000, December). Longer-term
effects of Head Start. Working Paper 8054. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of
Economic Research. Available: http://www.nber.org/papers/w8054.%20
Gilliam, W. S., & Zigler, E. F. (2000). A critical meta-analysis of all
evaluations of state-funded preschool from 1977 to 1998: Implications for
policy, service delivery, and program implementation. EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH
QUARTERLY, 15(4), 441-473.
Goodson, B. D., Layzer, J. I., St. Pierre, R. G., Bernstein, L. S., &
Lopez, M. (2000). Effectiveness of a comprehensive, five-year family support
program for low-income families: Findings from the Comprehensive Child
Development Program. EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 15(1), 5-39.
Karoly, L. A., Greenwood, P. W., Everingham, S. S., Hoube, J., Kilburn, M.
R., Rydell, C. P., Sanders, M., & Chiesa, J. (1998). INVESTING IN OUR
CHILDREN: WHAT WE KNOW AND DON'T KNOW ABOUT THE COSTS AND BENEFITS OF EARLY
CHILDHOOD INTERVENTIONS. Washington, DC: Rand Corporation. Available: http://
www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR898/. ED 419 621.
Oden, S., Schweinhart, L. J., & Weikart, D. P. (2000). INTO ADULTHOOD: A
STUDY OF THE EFFECTS OF HEAD START. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press. ED 444 730.
Planning and Evaluation Service. (1998). EVEN START: EVIDENCE FROM THE PAST
AND A LOOK TO THE FUTURE. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Reynolds, A. J., Temple, J. A., Robertson, D. L., & Mann, E. A. (2001,
May 9). Long-term effects of an early childhood intervention on educational
achievement and juvenile arrest: A 15-year follow-up of low-income children in
public schools. JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, 285(18), 2339-2346.
See also: http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/cls/index.html.%20
Smart Start Evaluation Team. (1999, September). A SIX-COUNTY STUDY OF THE
EFFECTS OF SMART START CHILD CARE ON KINDERGARTEN ENTRY SKILLS. Chapel Hill, NC:
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center (Report to North Carolina Dept. of
Health and Human Services). Available
http://www.fpg.unc.edu/%7Esmartstart/reports/six-county.PDF. ED 433 154.
U.S. General Accounting Office. (1997). HEAD START: RESEARCH PROVIDES LITTLE
INFORMATION ON IMPACT OF CURRENT PROGRAM. Washington, DC: U.S. General
Accounting Office. See also: http://www.gao.gov, search for HEHS-97-59. ED 407