Panel Paper: The Effects of Teacher Professional Development on Student Attendance in Preschool

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Harding - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Emily Hanno and Kathryn E. Gonzalez, Harvard University

Bolstered by evidence that early childhood education can have positive impacts on child outcomes and may ameliorate educational inequalities, many children today have the opportunity to attend formal early education programs (Chaudry et al., 2017; McCoy et al., 2017). However, not all enrolled children actively engage in early education, as absence rates tend to be high (Katz, Adams, & Johnson, 2015). Recent research suggests absenteeism, particularly in high quality classrooms, may impede children’s ability to reap the potential benefits of early intervention (Ansari & Purtell, 2017). Moreover, student absenteeism leads to the inefficient use of scare financial resources for early education (i.e., programs with long enrollment waitlists but with empty seats in classrooms). Consequently, policymakers and practitioners have sought to reduce student absenteeism through regulations and interventions.

Traditionally, interventions aimed at improving child attendance have targeted parents under the assumption that, particularly in early education, parents are the key factor underlying attendance. Such interventions often intend to build parental knowledge of student absenteeism and its consequences or to reduce familial barriers to attendance (e.g., transportation). However, there is reason to believe that attendance may also relate to school-level features. For example, high quality educators may more effectively engage students in learning, making children more likely to express to parents a desire to attend school. Alternatively, teachers that promote student learning may support parental mindsets of early education as an important learning opportunity that cannot be missed.

The current study leverages data from the National Center for Early Childhood Education’s Professional Development Study (NCRECE-PDS; Pianta & Burchinal, 2007-2011), a multi-site multiphase randomized control trial of professional development for early educators, to explore how classroom-based processes relate to student attendance. We first exploit the randomized design of the original study to yield a causal estimate of teacher participation in professional development on child attendance in a sample of 496 teachers and 1,407 children from nine US cities. We then use multivariate regression to descriptively investigate the potential mechanisms through which teacher participation in professional development might influence child attendance. Specifically, we assess whether treatment-induced improvements in teacher self-efficacy, classroom process quality, or child engagement explain positive impacts on attendance.

Initial findings suggest that teacher participation in the professional development treatment was associated with a significant reduction in absences and that the impact particularly large for children from low-income families. That is, on average, children of treatment teachers had absence rates that were 1.2 percentage points (p=0.02) lower than those of students of control teachers. Preliminary analyses also suggest that improvements in process quality, particularly instructional support, caused by teacher participation in professional development are associated with declines in student absenteeism. The presentation will highlight additional findings as well as discuss the potential implications of this study for attendance-related efforts. The efficacy of school-based interventions, like the one studied here, in reducing absenteeism highlights the importance of moving beyond parent-only approaches to attendance-related efforts.