- Christina Weiland
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This study leverages six years of public prekindergarten (PreK) and kindergarten data (N = 22,469) from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to examine enrollment in BPS PreK from 2012–2017 for students from different racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic groups. The largest differences in enrollment emerged with respect to race and ethnicity—and for enrollment in programs in higher-quality schools (defined as schools scoring in the top quartile on third grade standardized tests)—with disparities increasing over time. Although there were no differences across groups in proximity to BPS PreK programs in general, Black students lived about a quarter of a mile further than their White peers from the nearest program in a higher-quality school, with gaps widening over time. Closer proximity was associated with a higher likelihood of enrollment in a program in a higher-quality school. Implications for future research and policy are discussed.
Lottery-based identification strategies offer potential for generating the next generation of evidence on U.S. early education programs. Our collaborative network of five research teams applying this design in early education and methods experts has identified six challenges that need to be carefully considered in this next context: 1) available baseline covariates may not be very rich; 2) limited data on the counterfactual; 3) limited and inconsistent outcome data; 4) weakened internal validity due to attrition; 5) constrained external validity due to who competes for oversubscribed programs; and 6) difficulties answering site-level questions with child-level randomization. We offer potential solutions to these six challenges and concrete recommendations for the design of future lottery-based early education studies.
Nearly all states with public prekindergarten programs use mixed-delivery systems, with classrooms in both public schools and community-based settings. However, experts have long raised concerns about systematic inequities by setting within these public systems. We used data from five large-scale such systems that have taken steps to improve equity by setting (Boston, New York City, Seattle, New Jersey, and West Virginia) to conduct the most comprehensive descriptive study of prekindergarten setting differences to date. Our public school sample included 2,395 children in 383 classrooms in 152 schools, while our community-based sample is comprised of 1,541 children in 201 classrooms in 103 community-based organizations (CBOs). We examined how child and teacher demographic characteristics, structural and process quality features, and child gains differed by setting within each of these systems. We found evidence of sorting of children and teachers by setting within each locality, including of children with higher baseline skills and more educated teachers into public schools. Where there were differences in quality and children’s gains, these tended to favor public schools. The localities with fewer policy differences by setting – NJ and Seattle – showed fewer differences in quality and child gains. Our findings suggest that inequities by setting are common, appear consequential, and deserve more research and policy attention.
Food routines play a special role in Latino families. Using a cluster randomized trial with 248 children (M age = 67 months) from 13 schools, this study investigated the impact of a four-week family program designed to capitalize on food routines in improving Latino kindergarteners’ outcomes in the U.S. There were moderate-to-large impacts on child vocabulary (especially food-related) at end-of-treatment and the five-month follow-up, and suggestive evidence of moderate impacts on approaches to learning (including approaches to learning math) and executive function at the five-month follow-up. There were no statistically significant impacts on children’s math or literacy skills. A strengths-based, culturally responsive family intervention that is integrated into Latino family life can improve critical skills needed to succeed in school.
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.