Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Spanish Use in Head Start and Dual Language Learners' Achievement

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth B. Miller, University of California, Irvine
A growing body of work suggests that Spanish-speaking Dual Language Learners (DLLs) differentially benefit from quality early care and education (Buysse, Peisner-Feinberg, Páez, Hammer, & Knowles, 2013; Gormley, 2008; Loeb, Bridges, Bassok, Fuller, & Rumberger, 2007), and in particular from Head Start (U.S. DHHS, 2010a), compared with children of other subgroups and monolingual-English children. However, the literature has not sufficiently investigated the mechanisms why and if effects vary based on home language of Spanish (L1) use in the classroom.

Moreover, recent developmental policy reports (Mancilla-Martinez & Lesaux, 2014; McCabe et al., 2013) and Head Start mandates (U.S. DHHS, 2008) stress the importance of supporting L1 in English-dominant child care programs. Yet, understanding whether the effects of programs like Head Start on DLL children’s development differ by L1 use in the classroom, remains a key issue.

Consequently, this study’s specific research questions pertaining to Spanish-speaking DLLs are: 1) Are there main effects of L1 use on academic school readiness skills?; and 2) Does Head Start differentially benefit children instructed in L1? These research questions will be answered with a secondary data analysis of the two largest, nationally representative samples of Head Start children, families, and centers – the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS; U.S. DHHS, 2002-2006) and the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey, 2009 Cohort (FACES-2009; U.S. DHHS, 2009-2013).

Analyses were run using both datasets with a complete set of demographic covariates, Head Start center-level fixed effects, the appropriate weights, and the standard errors properly adjusted for weighting and clustering. For RQ 1, results indicate that children taught in L1 scored higher on receptive vocabulary in both HSIS (β= 0.16, p < .001) and FACES-2009 (β= 0.20, p < .05), compared with children not taught in L1 at the end of the Head Start year. A two-sample test of independent means indicted that these results truly replicated across datasets (p = .71).

For RQ 2 using just the HSIS, results indicate that there was a main effect of random assignment to the Head Start treatment on receptive vocabulary (β= 0.50, p < .01) and early math skills (β= 0.32, p < .001). Importantly, there also was a significant interaction effect on receptive vocabulary (β= 0.17, p < .001). Thus, Head Start children taught in L1 scored higher than Head Start children not taught in L1 as well as control group children on receptive vocabulary at the end of the Head Start year.

By discerning the role of L1 use in Head Start for children’s early academic skills using representative Head Start data, this study can help answer important policy questions related to educating the growing population of Spanish-speaking DLLs with regard to teacher and staff hiring, classroom supports, and curriculum choices in Head Start classrooms.