Thursday, November 8, 2012: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Salon A (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Organizers: Emily C. Ross, Northwestern University
Moderators: Henry Wilde, Abt Associates
Chairs: Virginia W. Knox, MDRC
The economic well-being of families with young children has declined significantly within the past decade with 21.5 percent of children in poverty in 2010, up 5 percentage points since 2000. One of the most promising antipoverty policies is education for parents and children. High-quality early childhood education programs represent one of the most successful ways to improve low-income children’s life opportunities (Barnett, 2011; Gormley et al., 2005; Heckman, 2006; Reynolds et al., 2011). Notably, few programs target parents for postsecondary education and training.
Early childhood education programs typically reach out to parents in a variety of ways to promote children’s school success. These include parenting education, fostering literacy and learning at home, and participating in children’s classrooms as well as program governance. The current model of parent engagement was developed in the 1960s when most mothers were not in the labor force, and it is now out of date. Striking evidence shows that almost 60% of low-income children under age 6 have parents with low levels of education. This calls for a new definition of parent engagement in the 21st century that includes postsecondary education and training.
We present theoretical perspectives and empirical findings regarding bi-directional influences between children’s and parents’ education in low-income families. Parents’ education is consistently associated with family economic stability and children’s healthy development. Moreover, increases in parental education while children are young are linked with improvements in children’s learning (Magnuson, 2009). Parents who observe their children thriving in an early childhood education may be more motivated to advance their own education and training (Sommer et al., 2011). Early childhood education programs may provide the ideal platform for adding education and workforce development programs for parents. This approach to educating parents and children simultaneously is called “Two-Generation Programs,” and may yield significant benefits to low-income families.
The goal of this symposium is to lay the groundwork for a new model of parent engagement. The first paper presents theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence from multiple disciplines on the bi-directional influences of children and parents in two-generation programs. The second paper analyzes interview and focus group data of parents in an exemplary workforce development program within a Head Start setting to explore the mechanisms by which parents’ participation in their own training may influence children's school success. The third paper uses the randomization from the Head Start Impact Study as an instrument to examine whether improvements in children’s learning may lead to advances in mothers’ educational trajectories after Head Start enrollment. The fourth paper describes the highly-regarded Child-Parent Center program established in 1967, its long-term impacts into adulthood, and the unprecedented opportunity for a scale-up to four cities under the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program. The discussant for the symposium is Henry Wilde, former Deputy Secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, and the Co-Founder of Acelero Learning, a company dedicated to closing the achievement gap for young children served in Head Start.