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

Panel Paper: What Elements of Teacher Practice Are Associated with Pre-K Effect Persistence: Evidence from the Tennessee-Voluntary Pre-K Experiment

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 2:05 PM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Luis Alberto Rodriguez1, Kerry G. Hofer2, Matthew Springer2 and Walker A. Swain2, (1)Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development, (2)Vanderbilt University
In recent years, numerous states have significantly expanded access to pre-Kindergarten (pre-K), and policymakers at the federal level are considering legislation that would fund near-universal access across the country. However, while some previous evaluations of pre-K programs have shown substantial long-term benefits (e.g., lower rates of dropping out of school, less criminal behavior, and less unemployment) for participants (e.g., Gorey, 2001; Heckman et. al, 2010; Husted and Barnett, 2005; Nores et. al, 2005), studies also tend to find that test score gains participants experience before kindergarten fade out by third grade or sooner (e.g., Magnuson et al., 2007a; Deming, 2009; Puma et al., 2010; Lipsey et al., 2013). Better understanding social program fadeout is critically important if policymakers and practitioners want to realize the full potential of early childhood interventions that often show tremendous early promise. 

Swain, Springer, and Hofer (2015) recently reported on the important role teacher effectiveness plays in prolonging the persistence of the benefits for Pre-K participants. They paired student-level data from a state-wide randomized controlled pre-K experiment with records of teacher observation scores from Tennessee’s new formal evaluation program to assess whether a student’s access to high quality early grade teachers moderates the persistence of pre-K effects. Their analyses indicated a modest, positive interaction between teacher quality and state pre-K exposure on early elementary cognitive measures, such that better teacher quality in years subsequent to pre-K is associated with more persistent positive pre-K effects. Moreover, the relationship between teacher quality and pre-K participation appeared to be particularly important for students who showed early cognitive deficits and language barriers prior to pre-K enrollment.

Building on the important work reported by Swain and colleagues (2015), this study sets out to inform what elements of teacher practice are associated with pre-K effect persistence. It pairs unique, item level classroom observation data of teachers with information from the Tennessee-Voluntary Pre-K experiment.  Item level classroom observation data is available on three critical domains: teacher instructional practices, planning, and environment. The instructional practices domain includes items on instructional content, pacing, questioning, feedback, and student grouping to a name a few.  The planning domain includes items on instructional plans, student work, and assessment practices.  The environment domain includes items on expectations, managing student behavior, classroom environment, and respectful culture.  Ultimately, this study will help educational research, practice, and policy better understand the potential mechanisms by which teachers are able to build on gains experienced in pre-K.  And, as a result, help policy and practice create the conditions that lead to larger long-term effects for children, particularly those from traditionally disadvantaged or low-performing backgrounds.