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

Panel Paper: Differential Third Grade Outcomes Associated with Attending Publicly Funded Preschool Programs for Low-Income, Latino Children

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 2:25 PM
Brickell Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Arya Ansari, The Ohio State University, Michael Lopez, Abt Associates, Louis Manfra, University of Missouri and Adam Winsler, George Mason University
A large body of research suggests that the early years of life are critical for children’s later school success. In light of this recognition, policymakers, researchers, and parents have focused increasingly on early care and education (ECE) programs as a way to prepare children for school. These programs may play a significant role in reducing the racial/ethnic disparities in school readiness, especially for non-English speaking Latino children, as these programs are often the first time they are formally exposed to the English language.

Despite growing evidence for the short-term benefits of ECE programs, their long-term benefits remain in question. Accordingly, an unanswered policy question is whether contemporary ECE programs have long-term benefits, especially for low-income and non-English speaking Latino children. Equally important is understanding whyECE programs confer benefits that are sustained over time. Leveraging theories of skill building, we examine whether skill-begets-skill and whether ECE programs have sustained benefits because they better prepare Latino children for kindergarten.

This study uses data from the Miami School Readiness Project and includes 12,003 low-income Latino children (81% dual language learner’s) who went to public school-based pre-K (58%) or experienced subsidized childcare (center-based care [CBC], 41%; family childcare [FCC], 1%) at age four. At the end of the preschool year, children’s social-behavioral skills were measured using the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment and their pre-academic skills were assessed with the Learning Accomplishment Profile Diagnostic. Children’s English proficiency was tested upon kindergarten entry. During third grade, children took Florida’s high-stakes reading test and their end-of-year grades were collected from school records. To address our research questions, we conducted multilevel regression analyses in Mplus and missing data were addressed with multiple imputation. Given issues of selection, we control for a full set of child covariates including children’s preschool entrycognitive skills.

Preliminary analyses suggest that children in pre-K entered kindergarten with stronger pre-academic skills, social-behavioral skills, and English fluency than children in CBC (β’s= .24-.27, p < .001). Children in CBC also demonstrated stronger pre-academic skills than children in FCC (β=.20, p < .001), but no other differences emerged; thus, these kindergarten entryskills were included as possible mediators in understanding the long-term benefits of ECE programs.

Longitudinal analyses revealed that children who experienced pre-K were 14% less likely to fail the reading test (OR=.86, p <.05) and had significantly higher third-grade GPAs (β = .17, p < .001) than children who experienced CBC. We next incorporated children’s kindergarten entry skills as mediators and found that these skills were linked with a lower likelihood of failing the test and with children’s third-grade GPAs. Further, children’s English fluency, pre-academic skills, and social-behavioral skills at kindergarten entry mediatedthe long-term benefits of pre-K. Thus, pre-K programs had sustained benefits for Latino children, in part, because they entered kindergarten more ready to learn.

 In sum, these results fill a critical gap in the existing literature by examining the potential long-term benefits of ECE programs for Latino children and suggest that policy-makers should consider continued funding for school-based ECE programs.