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

Panel Paper: Unique Patterns of Process and Structural Quality As Predictors of Head Start Impact Variation

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 4:10 PM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Allison H. Friedman-Krauss1, Dana Charles McCoy2, Maia Connors3, Hirokazu Yoshikawa1 and Pamela Morris1, (1)New York University, (2)Harvard University, (3)The Ounce of Prevention Fund
Results from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS; Puma et al., 2010) suggest that Head Start had small but significant impacts on children’s cognitive development after one year.  Recent analyses find significant variation by program in Head Start’s impacts on children’s school readiness (Bloom & Weiland, 2015). Although prior research has found quality of early care and education (ECE) to be generally important for shaping children’s outcomes (Zaslow et al., 2010), there is currently no consensus as to how various indicators of process and structural quality (e.g., physical classroom features, the affective valence of teacher-child interactions, “policy-regulated” characteristics like teacher qualifications) might work together to enhance or constrain learning opportunities in Head Start programs. To address this gap, we use data from the HSIS to 1) identify “typologies” of quality based on combinations of eight quality characteristics in 351 nationally representative Head Start centers, and 2) leverage the experimental nature of the HSIS to examine these quality typologies as predictors of variation in Head Start’s impact on children’s pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills. 

For the present study, we examine the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and Woodcock Johnson Applied Problems (WJAP) scores of 3,586 3- and 4-year-old children from the HSIS.  We use center-level data on observed classroom quality (including positive and negative teacher-child interactions and material and spatial quality from the ECERS-R and Arnett CIS scales; (Connors et al., 2013)), teachers’ reported instructional activities, education, and experience, as well as student-teacher ratio and center support service provision. 

Results of a hierarchical and iterative cluster analysis suggest four unique patterns of quality across Head Start centers that vary on process, structural, and “policy-regulated” quality characteristics in interesting and nuanced ways.  Next we used two-level models with children nested in the Head Start center to which they applied and included random slopes for treatment to model PPVT and WJAP outcomes in the spring of Head Start as a function of fall PPVT/WJAP scores, center fixed effects, child-, family-, and neighborhood-level covariates, random assignment status, and a cross-level interaction between random assignment status and cluster membership (see Bloom & Weiland, 2015). Preliminary results suggest that when children applied to Head Start centers characterized by low service provision, but high positive teacher-child interactions, availability of learning materials, and teacher education, and lower student-teacher ratios, Head Start impacts on the PPVT were significantly larger compared to when children applied to programs characterized by other combinations of quality characteristics, b=3.85 (S.E.=1.94), p=.048; effect size = 0.13. Cluster membership did not predict variation in Head Start impacts on the WJAP.

These analyses provide important evidence of the complexity of ECE quality as well as the importance of multiple aspects of program quality for generating larger, positive impacts of early education programs. Final results will further unpack the role of the quality both in Head Start centers and classrooms as well as the counterfactual setting, while also examining additional outcomes and potential selection effects (i.e., confounding characteristics that may covary with quality and also predict program effectiveness).