Socio-Economic Status-Based Gaps in Children’s Early Learning Environments: Long-Run Trends and the Role of Public Investment
(Family and Child Policy)
Friday, November 13, 2015: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Elise Chor, Northwestern University
Panel Chairs: Sebastian Gallegos, University of Chicago
Discussants: Richard Reeves, Brookings Institution
Early socioeconomic skill gaps are associated with later disparities in educational attainment and employment opportunities. Public investment in children’s early contexts through parenting, home visiting, child care subsidy, and Head Start and state Pre-K programs aims to buffer children against this risk by addressing the roots of early achievement gaps (e.g., differences in the home learning environment) and leveling the quality of early education and care across children from different backgrounds. The proposed panel will examine socioeconomic gaps in children’s early environments, school readiness, and long-term economic prospects, and the intervening role of such anti-poverty policies.
Three of the studies draw from multiple large-scale and nationally representative datasets to describe the evolving contexts experienced by young children over time, with a focus on socioeconomic disparities in these contexts. “Preschool-Age Skill Gaps and the Changing Technology of Parenting” uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth—Child Supplement, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Supplement, and the National Household Education Surveys to demonstrate that while parenting practices and styles are characterized by an education gradient, positive parenting has increased at all education levels and the education gap in positive parenting has narrowed in recent years. “Are Early Childhood Disparities Narrowing? The changing nature of early childhood and its link to narrowing school-entry achievement gaps” utilizes the 1998 and 2010 kindergarten cohorts of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to measure changes in children’s early home and preschool experiences and in SES gaps in those experiences. This study, consistent with the first, documents enriched home learning environments overall, and smaller income disparities in home learning environments in recent years. “Recent Trends in Socioeconomic and Racial School Readiness Gaps at Kindergarten Entry” supplements data on the two ECLS-K cohorts with data on the ECLS-B cohort to show that income and racial school readiness gaps have also narrowed over the same time period.
These trends have implications with regard to social mobility and the possibility of disrupting the intergenerational transmission of poverty through policies oriented towards enriching the early environments of low-SES children. “Multigenerational Head Start Participation: Reducing socioeconomic school readiness gaps?” employs Head Start Impact Study data to assess the ability of enriched early environments to alter the trajectories of children born into multigenerational poverty. The paper shows that Head Start participation yields larger positive impacts for children whose mothers participated in the program themselves in their youth, likely through a larger boost to parenting practices among these mothers. Together, the panel’s four studies consider the important role of children’s early environments in determining early achievement—which serves as a marker for later outcomes—and the potential demonstrated by public investment in low-income children’s environments for narrowing early achievement gaps in an effort to promote social mobility in a time of widening income inequality. The panel’s discussant will deepen the discussion by drawing on extensive experience with both research and policy practice related to issues of inequality and social mobility, and socioeconomic disparities in the home environment in particular.