The evidence on state-funded preschool

The evidence of the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten (preschool) programmes in the US was recently reviewed by a task force of scientists from the Brookings Institute and Duke University. These findings were released in a report called “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects”. Following the evidence review, the task force released a consensus statement outlining conclusions and recommendations about the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten. According to the report:

  1. Greatest improvements at the end of the pre-kindergarten year are more often found for pupils from low-SES backgrounds or who are dual language learners than for their higher-SES and English-proficient peers.
  2. Not all pre-k programmes are equally effective, and this may be influenced by several factors. Positive influences include using evidence-based programmes that are well-implemented; utilising ongoing professional development and coaching for teachers; and promoting classrooms with predictable routines and positive, supportive pupil-teacher relationships.
  3. Pre-k environments are most effective when pupils’ individual abilities, knowledge and backgrounds are considered, and teaching strategies and content accordingly adjusted.
  4. Children who attend pre-k demonstrate more school readiness at the end of the year than those who do not, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
  5. Long-term effects of pre-k in the later elementary (primary)years are inconclusive.
  6. More complete and reliable evidence is needed, during and after pre-k programmes, to create and sustain pre-kindergartners’ long-term gains.

The full report goes into more detail about the consensus statements, and discusses the results of the evidence with regards to funding, policy and other considerations.

Source: Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects: A consensus statement (April 2017), Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, The Brookings Institution

The impact of more teachers and smaller classes in the early years

What difference do smaller class sizes, and more teachers, make in early childhood education (ECE)?

A meta-analysis by Jocelyn Bowne and colleagues, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, attempts to find some answers. The analysis included evaluations of ECE programs in the US between 1960 and 2007. The evaluations were either experimental studies, used a high-quality quasi-experimental design, or showed baseline equivalence of treatment and control participants. In total, 38 studies were included, all of which looked at children ages 3 to 5 years old attending an ECE center for 10 hours a week or more for at least 4 months. Child-teacher ratios ranged from 5:1 to 15:1 and class sizes from 11 to 25.

The findings were as follows:

  • Above a child–teacher ratio of 7.5:1, changing the ratio had no effect on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. Below this, a reduction of the ratio by one child per teacher predicted an effect size of +0.22.
  • For class sizes greater than 15, increasing the size of the class had little effect on children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes. Below this, one child fewer in the class size predicted an effect size of +0.10.

The authors caution that these findings are correlational, rather than causal, so changing class sizes or ratios, certainly at scale, may not lead to these results. However, they conclude that “very small and/or well-staffed classrooms might confer some small benefits for children’s cognitive and academic learning”.

Source: A meta-analysis of class sizes and ratios in early childhood education programs: Are thresholds of quality associated with greater impacts on cognitive, achievement, and socioemotional outcomes? (February 2017), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol 39, Issue 3

Early years childcare and cognitive and socioemotional development at age three

From September 2013, two-year-old children living in the 20% most disadvantaged households in the UK became eligible for 15 hours of funded early childhood education and care (ECEC) per week. This was extended in September 2014 to two-year-old children living in the 40% most disadvantaged households. The longitudinal Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) followed the progress of children from approximately 6,000 families, from ages two to seven, to help provide the Department for Education (DfE) with evidence on the effectiveness of early years education.

This latest DfE impact study presents findings for 4,583 children from the SEED longitudinal study and focuses on the relationship between the amount and type of ECEC between age two and three and children’s cognitive and socioemotional development at age three. After controlling for home environment and demographic factors, the amount of ECEC received between the ages of two and three was found to be associated with cognitive and socioemotional developmental benefits. There was also evidence that ECEC is associated with higher cognitive verbal ability (naming vocabulary). The study also found that children who participated in more than 35 hours of ECEC per week between two- and three-years-old had higher levels of conduct problems and lower levels of emotional self-regulation than children receiving less than two hours a week, although this group of children comprised only 3.25% of the sample (149 children). The researchers note that the children who received more than 35 hours of ECEC between two- and three-years-old were also more likely to have started early (ie, during the first year of life), and that this early start combined with high use when aged two to three is a significant factor behind these effects.

Source: Study of early education and development (SEED): Impact study on early education use and child outcomes up to age three. Research report (July 2017), Department for Education. Reference: DFE-RR706

New evidence on early childhood settings and children’s outcomes

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review by Matthew Manning and colleagues examines the evidence on the relationship between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC), and finds there is a positive association.

The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. Of those samples, 58 assessed the overall quality of ECEC as an outcome. The relationship between teacher qualifications and overall ECEC quality demonstrated a positive correlation (r = 0.198).

Meanwhile, research funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published as a Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper, looks at whether staff qualifications and Ofsted ratings of nursery schools impact on how well children do at school.

For this report, Jo Blanden and colleagues matched data on children’s outcomes at the end of Reception with information on nursery schools attended in the year before starting school for 1.6 million children born between September 2003 and August 2006. They found that children who attend a nursery school rated outstanding, or one employing one or more staff members who are graduates, do better at school, but the effects are very small. Having an employee at the nursery school who is a graduate, specifically a qualified teacher, raises children’s scores at age 5 and 7 by two percent of a standard deviation. Attending a nursery school rated outstanding is associated with a better performance in the Early Years Foundation Stage at age 5 of about four percent of a standard deviation.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood care and learning environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews 2017:1.

Quality in early years settings and children’s school achievement (February 2017), The Centre for Economic Performance Discussion Paper No 1468.

Examining teachers’ response to chaos in the classroom

An article co-authored by Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Lieny Jeon reports that teachers need emotional support to manage chaotic classrooms.

The finding comes from a study Jeon and her colleagues conducted that examined the role of teachers’ emotional abilities and classroom environments in how teachers respond to children’s negative emotions and disruptive behaviour. The researchers sampled 1,129 teachers working with pre-school pupils in child-care centres or public pre-K programmes (Reception) across the US. Using a survey, the teachers were asked to rate their perceptions of environmental chaos and their responsiveness to children in early childcare settings.

The researchers found that childcare chaos (eg, crowdedness, unpredictability and lack of routines and rules) was directly associated with teachers’ non-supportive reactions (eg, distress reactions and punitive reactions) after controlling for multiple programme and teacher characteristics. In addition, teachers in more chaotic childcare settings had less reappraisal and coping skills, which in turn was associated with lower levels of positive responsiveness to children.

The article suggests that intervention programmes are needed to address teachers’ coping and emotion regulation strategies in early childhood education.

Source: Child-care chaos and teachers’ responsiveness: The indirect associations through teachers’ emotion regulation and coping (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59:83-96

Motor skills development linked with school readiness

A study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport finds that preschool children who performed better on fine and gross motor skill assessments early in the school year were more likely to have better social behaviour and ability to pay attention, follow directions, and stay on task (known as “executive function”) later in the preschool year.

For the study Megan MacDonald and colleagues used a range of assessments to measure the fine and gross motor skills and the executive function and social behaviour of 92 children aged three- to five-years-old. The assessments were conducted in the autumn and again in the spring. Fine motor skills include visual motor integration, which includes activities such as stacking blocks, copying circles on a page, or playing with creative toys such as Lego or crayons. Gross motor skill development could include games and activities that require reciprocal play, and object manipulation skills such as ball games.

The results showed that children’s visual motor integration skills in the autumn of preschool had modest relations with their executive function scores assessed in the spring. Children who demonstrated better object manipulation skills in the autumn had statistically significant better social behaviour in their preschool classrooms in the spring, including more self-control, more co-operation, and less externalising/ hyperactivity. These findings have implications for early learning initiatives and school readiness, although additional research is needed to better understand how or why motor skills are linked.

Source: Relations of Preschoolers’ Visual-Motor and Object Manipulation Skills with Executive Function and Social Behavior (2016), Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport