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

Panel Paper: Gender and Educational Inequity: Impact of North Carolina's Early Education Initiatives on Academic Performance Gaps

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 9:10 AM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Clara G. Muschkin, Helen Ladd and Kenneth Dodge, Duke University
Despite prevailing norms of gender equity in education, boys and girls continue to perform differently in school.  Recent studies of gender differences in school performance have shifted the focus from adolescence to primary grades, based on growing evidence that early school experiences are closely linked to educational and other life-course outcomes.  Our study takes this approach a step further, evaluating the potential for addressing gender gaps through educational opportunities offered during the pre-kindergarten years. North Carolina has actively pursued early childhood policies to help children prepare for school, and to reduce achievement gaps.  These policies supported two state-wide early childhood initiatives during our study period (1993-2010): Smart Start provided funding to improve childcare services at the county level for all children between the ages of 0-5, and More at Fourprovided funding for pre-school slots for disadvantaged four-year-olds.  We explore the community-wide effects of these two early education initiatives on gender differences in academic outcomes among children enrolled in grades 3-5 between 1995 and 2010, using administrative student data and information on variation across counties and over time in the availability and penetration of these programs.

 In prior research, we found that allocations for these two early childhood initiatives had independent and cumulative positive effects on test scores in reading and math, and reduced the probability that children were placed into special education by the end of third grade. Another study, in progress, finds that these beneficial effects of early childhood program investments may persist through the fourth and fifth grades. 

Our prior findings also suggest that while enhancing educational opportunities and accomplishments for all children, early education has compensatory effects for children who are at risk of educational disadvantage—access to early education mitigates disadvantages associated with categories of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. In this current study of gender gaps, we note that across our study period, girls had significantly better outcomes in terms of reading and math skills, special education placements, and grade retention in third through fifth grades. Our main focus is to evaluate the extent to which access to early education can mitigate the disadvantage that boys experience throughout elementary school.  Our basic models include program allocations for Smart Start and More at Four, individual-level characteristics measured at birth and in the elementary grades, time-varying county attributes, and year and county fixed effects.  In our preliminary analyses, we find that higher funding levels for both programs are associated with significantly reduced differences between males and females in math test scores in third grade;  the positive effects of Smart Start are significant through the fifth grade.  For both programs, higher funding levels are associated with a reduced female advantage in reading scores in third, fourth, and fifth grade.  We find similar patterns for other outcomes: program allocations also mitigate some gender differences in grade retention and special education placements. In further analyses, we will explore differential compensatory effects on gender gaps by race, ethnicity, immigrant status, and poverty status.