Continued on page 27
“The largest single
Federal investment in
the early education
children. Head Start,
produces no lasting
Congressional Digest • www.CongressionalDigest.com • April 2014 25
“A quality program
works in partnership
with our families and
helps to develop our
children’s skills and
abilities . . .”
Delaware, continued from page 24
and families. We are systematically and voluntarily improving quality through Delaware Stars, which integrates research-based standards and ratings, improvement supports, and financial resources. Delaware Stars is pivotal to our efforts, and it is available to all of our early learning programs on a voluntary basis. It has become an integrated framev̂ ôrk for improving quality across sectors in our State. Our child care. Head Start, and preschool programs all participate in this effort.
Delaware Stars program is reaching children and their families through a large net- work of school district, child care. Head Start, and Early Intervention programs. We are particularly interested in how we are doing in serving our at-risk children, i.e. low-in- come children, children with developmental delays and disabilities, etc. In 2013, seven in 10 of our at-risk children participated in an early childhood program in Delaware Stars. And four in 10 of these children are in a Delaware Stars program with a higher quality rating. These numbers are up from the previous year, and we have more assertive targets for 2014.
At the same time, we set specific goals for working with programs on quality im- provement, and we met those goals in 2013. Over 75 percent of our child care centers, which deliver services to the greatest number of our children, including our low-income children, participate in this program. And one last number, 70 percent of our programs have made enough progress on quality improvement to have a Delaware Stars quality rating, and about one-third are now at our two highest levels. But you can see even with our focus and our progress, we have a long way to go to help our children meet their promise.
A quality program works in partnership with our families and helps to develop our children’s skills and abilities not just in key areas of language, literacy, and general cog- nition, but also works with our children to develop their social and emotional needs. This is the fuel for our children’s success — their initiative, grit, persistence, resilience — that together with these traditional academic areas help pave the way to productive adulthood. A safe environment is necessary but not sufficient. A safe, learning environ- ment with enough books and materials is necessary but not sufficient. A quality pro- gram provides this in the context of the teachers and families who work together to embed our children’s learning in these relationships.
And this becomes even more meaningful for our low-income families who may be juggling two or more jobs, may not have time or the skill to read to their children, and may have difficulty providing their children with enough healthy, nutritious food. Quality early learning is part of our equation for our children’s school and life success. That’s why we have so many partners and stakeholders in our efforts in Delaware.
We have a family-oriented website, available to them through their smart phones, that focuses on early learning from a family point of view and gets a lot of traffic. Here is what our families have to say about Delaware Stars:
“I would recommend a Delaware Stars program based on the remarkable change we have noticed in our daughter’s confidence, her ability to challenge herself more often, and an overall improvement in her social behavior and development skills.” — Precious White
“Since my son has been in a Delaware Stars program he continues to develop emo- tionally and has improved skills. It has really helped him grow.” — Khaluah Mumin
“My child is learning so much in a Delaware Stars program. It is a wonderful pro- gram.” — Jannette Torres Rodriguez Continued on page 28
26 Congressional Digest • www.CongressionalDigest.com • April 2014
BrookingSy continued from page 25
control group also gets pre-K services, just a year later than the treatment group. At that point there is no longer a control group.
But research shows clearly that some pre-K programs, including Head Start, can impact children’s learning when measured when children are just finishing the pre-K year. The whole issue is about whether the pre-K experience produces a lasting advan- tage. If a research design can’t answer that question, and the Tulsa-type research studies cannot, the findings aren’t relevant to decisions that pivot on estimates of the return on investment in early learning and child care.
The strongest piece of research on the impact of State pre-K programs is the recently reported findings from an evaluation of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK). TN-VPK is a full-day pre-K program for four year-olds from low-income families. It has quality standards that are high and in keeping with those proposed by the Obama Ad- ministration under Preschool for All, including the requirement of a licensed teacher in each classroom, no more than 10 children per adult, and an approved and appropriate curriculum.
The study was conducted as a randomized trial (the gold standard for evaluating program impacts) using a lottery to select participants from those who were seeking admission to oversubscribed programs. Only about a quarter of children in the control group found their way into other center-based programs, such as Head Start or private pre-K, so the study compares groups that are very different in their levels of access to early childhood education.
Seven of the outcomes favor the control group, with one (quantitative concepts) being statistically significant. In other words, the group that experienced the TN-VPK performed less well on cognitive tasks at the end of first grade than the control -group, even though three-fourths of the children in the control group had no experience as four year olds in a center-based early childhood program of any sort.
Similar results were obtained on measures of social/emotional skills. Further, chil- dren in the pre-K treatment group were receiving special education services at higher rates than children in the control group.
The Results from Perry and Ahecedarian Cannot Be Generalized to Present-day Pro- grams. Who among us has not heard the claim that a dollar invested in quality pre- school returns $7 in public benefits (or perhaps $13 or $18, depending on the source)?
These estimates are derived from two studies of small pre-K programs in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (the Abecedarian program) and Ypsilanti, Michigan (the Perry program). The studies were conducted as randomized trials, and the participants and control group members have been followed into adulthood. The findings as reported favor the participants.
But while the research design of these studies was a gold-standard, randomized trial and the results are favorable for participants, these programs were implemented many decades ago, and the nature of what they delivered is very different from current State and Federal programs. In particular, they were small hothouse programs with only about 50 program participants each. They were multi-year intensive interventions involving family components, as well as center-based child care. Costs per participant were mul- tiples of the levels of investment in present-day programs, e.g., $90,000 per child for Abecedarian.