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

Panel Paper: English Language Learners in Public Pre-Kindergarten Programs: Evidence from Miami-Dade

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 2:45 PM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dylan Conger, George Washington University, Chloe Gibbs, University of Virginia and Yukko Uchikoshi, University of California, Davis
Research on the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs is increasing at a rapid pace, with growing evidence of concentrated benefits of pre-K enrollment among disadvantaged children, particularly for children living in poverty. Relatively little is known about the differential effects of pre-K programs on children who are not yet proficient in English though there is some suggestive evidence from other early interventions (e.g., Head Start and full-day kindergarten) that warrant further exploration of effects for this population. Access to formal schooling at an early age may be particularly beneficial for English language learners (ELL) who disproportionately live in homes where there is limited exposure to English, high rates of poverty, and relatively low levels of parental education. Because the literature on early childhood interventions demonstrates a common pattern of fade-out of program effects, as measured by cognitive test scores, it is important to document impact on a broader set of elementary school outcomes. These estimates can assist policymakers in understanding the return on early investments in the form of systemic cost savings.

This paper estimates the intermediate effects of state-funded pre-K programs on the educational outcomes of ELL and English proficient students in Miami-Dade County public schools. We assess the effect of state-funded pre-K programs, operating in public schools, on the educational performance and school stability of ELL students relative to their non-ELL classmates. Specifically, using data on all kindergarteners observed in the 2006 and 2007 academic years, we estimate the effect of publicly-funded pre-K attendance on students’ likelihood of: (1) being promoted to the first grade on time; (2) remaining in the same school between kindergarten and first grade; and (3) for ELL students only, exiting ELL status between kindergarten and first grade (for those in ELL status in kindergarten).

Because there is non-random sorting into pre-K participation, we control for selection into pre-K participation with a host of student-level demographic characteristics and estimate models with the inclusion of kindergarten school and classroom fixed effects. Results suggest that all students, both ELL and non-ELL, who participate in a public pre-K program have higher rates of promotion to the first grade and higher rates of school stability between kindergarten and first grade. Importantly, ELL children who participated in public pre-K also have higher exit rates from ELL status by first grade than their ELL peers who entered school at kindergarten. Results are notably similar across models with the inclusion of school and classroom fixed effects.

In general, the findings suggest that while ELL children benefit from pre-K participation—and their participation likely generates cost savings fairly quickly in reductions in special ELL services—all children experience important academic and school stability advantages. We also find suggestive evidence that these results are not driven primarily through the stability of attending the same school for pre-K and kindergarten. The results inform policies around pre-K offerings and provision schemes, and have important implications for assessing the cost-effectiveness of such early investments.