Panel Paper: The One-Year Effects of Parents’ Career Training and Employment on Children’s Chronic Absenteeism in Head Start

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Teresa Eckrich Sommer, Will Schneider, Elise Chor and P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Northwestern University

Early childhood education has become a central policy lever to expand opportunity for low-income families (Barnett, 2001; Heckman, 2006). Yet chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10% of school days offered) is a major problem for most public early childhood education programs. For instance, the proportion of children who are chronically absent is 26% in Baltimore, 36% in Chicago, and 49% in New York City (Balfanz and Byrnes, 2013; Connolly and Olson, 2012; Ehrlich et al., 2014). From a developmental perspective, when children are absent, they miss the gains afforded by the developmental, social, and academic programming of early childhood education. From a policy perspective, high rates of chronic absenteeism in Head Start have the added effect of reducing average center attendance rates, a key federal program performance measure.

New strategies are needed to help Head Start and other early childhood education programs ensure that the most at-risk children attend school regularly. Efforts to reduce Head Start absenteeism typically focus on influencing interactions and communication among parents and teachers (or other school staff). A different approach is to test whether improving parents’ human capital has an indirect effect on children’s regular school attendance. Two-generation human capital programs provide an opportunity to examine this approach as they intentionally and strategically coordinate workforce training and employment services for parents with early childhood education programming for children. These interventions may improve parents’ education, employment, and psychological well-being as well as family functioning, which in turn may increase children’s attendance in early childhood education.

The current study examines the effects of CareerAdvance®, a two-generation intervention that recruits parents with children in Head Start for a career training program in the healthcare sector which also includes a range of supportive services. We use quasi-experimental methods to test whether enrolling in CareerAdvance® has an effect on children’s chronic absenteeism in Head Start among a study sample of 305 children and their parents. We employ individual child attendance data that Head Start centers track daily to examine average rates of chronic absenteeism. We compare CareerAdvance® parents with a similar group of parents on observed demographic characteristics and motivation.

All study families had at least one child enrolled in CAP Tulsa’s high quality Head Start programs. Study parents were 40% Black, 28% White, 22% American Indian or other, and 10% Hispanic. Average annual household income was approximately $15,000, and 49% of parents had a high school degree or less, 46% had some college, and 5% had a college degree. At baseline, 45% of study children were chronically absent.

Preliminary findings using propensity score matching suggest that after one year of parents’ participation in CareerAdvance®, the proportion of children classified as chronically absent was lower among the treatment group (32%) than the matched comparison group (57%). We then tested possible explanatory factors. Initial findings suggest that children whose parents who were unemployed (coeff: -0.29***), had low levels of optimism (coeff: -0.26***), and had high levels of psychological distress (coeff: -0.33***) may experience the greatest reductions in chronic absenteeism.