Academic Early Education: Developing an Evidence Base for Policy Contexts and Outcomes
Thursday, November 12, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Jade Marcus Jenkins, University of California, Irvine
Panel Chairs: Margaret Burchinal, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Discussants: Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University
Both the well-known importance of early childhood education in predicting later academic and labor market success and the associated pressures of educational accountability have accelerated the academicization of public pre-k and kindergarten. The proposed panel brings together four papers from researchers across the country to examine children’s early classroom experiences and the intended and unintended consequences of academic pre-k and kindergarten.
Starting in pre-k, there is a promising evidence base for preschool curricula that focus on academic domains. Building Blocks, a preschool mathematics curriculum, has perhaps the most empirical support amongst all academic curricula. Watts and colleagues paper uses random assignment to Building Blocks during preschool to instrument for gains in early mathematics skills and causally examine its relationship with mathematics achievement in third, fourth, and fifth grades, improving upon prior correlational estimates.
Jenkins, Auger, and Yu also use preschool curricula as framework to understand the academic preschool experience. Teachers and policymakers can choose from over fifty different published curricula, but no clear guidance exists on which curricula are the most effective at promoting children’s development. This paper uses three large, representative datasets of preschool children to examine how curricula drive classroom activities and whether the curricula packages most commonly used in public preschool programs (e.g., Head Start) promote disadvantaged children’s development.
Moving from pre-k to kindergarten, the third paper examines activities and instructional practices in kindergarten classrooms and also uses multiple datasets. Engel et al. study the association between teacher-reported time use on academic content and teaching methods (e.g., teacher-directed, play-based) with children’s academic and behavioral outcomes in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies from two time periods. They also examine changes in academic content over the two periods.
The fourth paper looks at an unintended behavioral response to academic early education. Parents have been increasingly delaying children’s entry into kindergarten— known as “redshirting”—to ensure they are ready for the demands of elementary school. Because this practice is particularly common amongst children with disabilities, Fortner and Jenkins use educational census data from North Carolina to examine heterogeneity in the effects of kindergarten redshirting by the type and severity of children's disabilities, and estimate the relationship between delayed entry and third grade achievement across different disability designations.
We recruited Margaret Burchinal, senior scientist at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC Chapel Hill to serve as chair of the session, and Anna Gassman-Pines, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, as the discussant. These additional participants contribute unique disciplinary perspectives with knowledge of child policy and developmental psychology. The paper authors represent 10 different institutions who are gender diverse, and include students, post-doctoral researchers, and a range of faculty rank.
In the “Golden Age” of evidence-based policy, we must critically examine how policy levers like pre-k and kindergarten prescribe academic instruction and understand the intended and unintended consequences of an increasingly academic era of early education. The success of investments in early education will rely on the type of empirical work in our panel.