Panel: Mechanisms for Improving Children’s Learning in Head Start

Saturday, November 4, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Anna Markowitz, University of Virginia
Panel Chairs:  Mimi Engel, Vanderbilt University
Discussants:  Kimberly Burgess, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Teacher-Child Racial Match and Parental Engagement in Head Start
Anna Markowitz1, Daphna Bassok1 and Jason Grissom2, (1)University of Virginia, (2)Vanderbilt University

Above and Beyond the Head Start Classroom: The Relationship Between Parents and Low-Income Children’s Development
Emily Ross, Terri J. Sabol, P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Emma Adam, Northwestern University

Serving over 900,000 children, Head Start is the flagship federal investment in early care and education (ECE) in the United States. However, recent evidence from the Head Start Impact Study has raised concerns about both the program’s effectiveness and its overall quality. These concerns have led to both policy efforts aimed at improving Head Start programs, and fascinating new research exploring which Head Start mechanisms most effectively support child development. This session includes four papers that leverage either nationally-representative data about Head Start programs or administrative data from the full universe of Head Start programs to explore how policy malleable aspects of Head Start relate to children’s learning.

The first paper examines the importance of teacher degrees for child development. Both the 1998 and 2007 Head Start reauthorizations made substantial efforts to raise the proportion of teachers with bachelor’s (BA) degrees. However, the evidence on the effects of teacher BA are unclear; moreover, selection is a major problem in the existing literature. The present study leverages center fixed effects to explore both BA sorting and the within-center impact of BAs on children’s outcomes.

The second paper examines the effects of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) on quality in Head Start. Used in 40 states, QRIS are accountability policies aimed at improving ECE quality, however, there is almost no evidence on their impact. This paper fills that gap in the context of Head Start. Using administrative data covering the universe of Head Start programs, this study estimates within-state changes in Head Start structural and process quality in states that implemented QRIS relative to states that did not.

One concern about policies mandating changes to teacher education levels and other structural quality features is that as Head Start improves on these costly dimensions it might experience trade-offs in its ability to provide two-generation solutions and culturally responsive experiences. Research has linked the rapid increase in teacher education with a whitening of the Head Start workforce; however we have no evidence as to whether this shift in the demographic composition of Head Start teachers might matter for children and families. Leveraging within-center differences in teacher-child racial match, the third paper provides new evidence about how changes in the Head Start workforce may impact parental engagement with Head Start.

The fourth paper further probes the role of Head Start parents in shaping their children’s learning over the Head Start year, and examines how these patterns changed over a decade of substantial efforts to improve Head Start quality. Using classroom fixed-effect regressions, it estimates the relationship between parental inputs and child development net of the influence of Head Start. In addition it explores whether the relationship between parental inputs and children’s development varies based on Head Start classroom quality.

These papers provide evidence highlighting the dual mechanisms of Head Start quality and parental involvement in promoting child development during the preschool year and emphasize the importance of exploring the impact of policies designed to promote quality on parents’ ability to support their young children.

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