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Sequences of preschool program and elementary school types and low-income children’s achievement trajectories

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

The last decade has brought historic increases in public funding and enrollment in Head Start and pre-k programs across the nation (Barnett, Carolan, Fitzgerald, & Squires, 2012; Child Trends, 2015). Simultaneously, public funding for elementary schools of choice (i.e., open enrollment, charter, and magnet) has also increased (Keaton, 2012). Both of these educational initiatives aim to reduce inequities in access to high-quality early learning environments as levers for diminishing achievement disparities (U.S. Department of Education, 2007; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). However, as low-income families encounter more choices and select various combinations of preschool and elementary school environments for their children, the implications of children’s cumulative preschool and elementary school experiences remains unclear. The present study capitalizes on recently released, nationally representative data, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study- Kindergarten Class of 2010-2011 (ECLS-K:2011), to chart the early reading and math trajectories of low-income children. Particular attention is focused on whether specific sequences of preschool program and elementary school types not only promote achievement growth but also sustain any preschool-related benefits.
Hierarchical linear models for reading and math achievement from the fall of kindergarten to the spring of third grade were conducted in Stata 14 with population weights provided by NCES (W1C0), schools specified as the clustering level for students, and numerous child, family, and school covariates. Over 40% of low-income children did not receive any formal preschool experience in the pre-kindergarten year (see Table 1). Although most low-income children subsequently attended traditional public school (83%), over twice as many children attended a public school of choice (12%) rather than a private school (5%). A higher proportion of low-income children attended an elementary school of choice or private elementary school if they had previously attended a center-based program (22%) rather than Head Start (18%) or had no preschool experience (16%).
Few significant preschool or elementary school group differences were observed in intercepts or linear slopes for low-income children. At kindergarten entry, children who had attended a center-based program scored significantly higher in reading (B = 1.83; SE = .47; p < .001) and math (B = 1.98; SE = .47; p < .001) than children with no preschool experience. Likewise, for linear slopes, only one significant group difference emerged; children who attended center-based programs followed by elementary schools of choice enrollment displayed steeper math growth than peers with no preschool experience and traditional public school enrollment (see Figure 1). By 3rd grade, low-income children who attended center-based preschool were scoring .16 and .19 SDs higher in reading and math, respectively, if they attended a public school of choice than low-income peers who did not attend preschool but also attended a school of choice. Among children who attended Head Start, a pattern of negative or zero effect sizes emerged across elementary school types when compared to children who had not attended preschool. We will continue to refine these analyses (e.g., conducting multiple data imputation; disaggregating center-based care into private centers and publicly funded pre-k).

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