Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Differentiated Impact of Early Entry Into Head Start on Social Competence and Literacy: An Applied Propensity Score Analysis
by Speerschneider, Kimberly K., Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2018, 124; 10815702
Abstract (Summary)

Family poverty is associated with children’s health, achievement, and behavior (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997). Less than half, 48%, of children from low income homes are considered school ready by the age of five compared with 75% of their peers from middle to high income homes (Isaacs, 2012). Researchers have linked school readiness to long-term outcomes like success in grade school, lower drop-out rates in high school, and higher earned income as adults (Duncan et al., 2007). Although children in poverty experience greater deficits in areas of school readiness, participation in a quality childhood education can serve as a protective buffer and has been shown to be associated with improved academic, social and health outcomes (Caughy, DiPietro, & Strobino, 1994; Love et al., 2003; Karoly, Kilburn, & Cannon, 2005). School readiness has been an aim of Head Start since its conception (Raver & Zigler, 1997).

More research has been dedicated to aspects of early childhood education programming to ascertain which aspects are most beneficial to children and thus there is a growing body of literature for which researchers have assessed the impact of early entry into Head Start, which in turn provides children with two years versus one year of Head Start programming (Moiduddin, Aikens, Tarullo, & West, 2010; Tarullo, Aikens, Moiduddin, & West, 2010). Due to the limited program capacity, children who enter Head Start at three instead of four-years-old, tend to have more extreme risk factors that afford them priority for enrollment. While randomization of a treatment such as early entry into Head Start is not often feasible nor ethical, a quasi- experimental design like propensity score analysis can help mitigate the effects of selection bias by controlling for confounding variables (Rosenbaum & Rubin, 1983).

Researchers who have applied this methodology to learn more about the impact of early entry into Head Start, have found that the additional year of Head Start programming tends to lead to gains in social competence and literacy outcomes. This study sought to replicate these findings with a new sample and extend this work by assessing possible differentiated treatment effects by propensity score strata. Further, this study sought to assess the nature of the relationship between social competence and literacy.

Early Entry into Head Start was associated with significant gains in literacy throughout the four-year-old year for children in the treatment compared to those in the control. This treatment effect was consistent across all propensity score strata. There were no significant treatment effects of early entry on social competence, including social skills and problem behavior. Significant gains in social skills were observed throughout the academic year for both the treatment and control groups, but no changes were observed in problem behavior. The treatment effect on social competence was distinct for children with low propensity scores who were therefore least likely to be in the treatment group. Ad-hoc analyses of the low propensity score group identified some possible areas for future research. Finally, data here established a small positive correlation between social skills and literacy but found no correlation between problem behavior and literacy.

Collectively, the findings suggested that early entry into Head Start was significantly associated with improved early literacy outcomes that were sustained throughout the pre- Kindergarten year. Head Start, regardless of the age of entry, was associated with significant gains in literacy and social skills. Recommendations are made to improve program efficacy regarding problem behavior outcomes and assess program characteristics. Recommendations are made for future research to address the Head Start selection criteria and enrollment process to identify areas of opportunity for outreach and advocacy.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Quinn, Kevin P.
Commitee: Bryer, Jason M., Tanzman, Melinda
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: Educational Psychology and Methodology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Early childhood education, Educational psychology
Keywords: Early entry, Head start, Literacy, Propensity score, Social competence
Publication Number: 10815702
ISBN: 978-0-438-07985-4
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