Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Three essays on early childhood education policy
by Bassok, Daphna, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 190; 3364495
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation addresses three timely issues in early childhood education policy, focusing in particular on programs that serve poor children. I use large-scale, longitudinal data to evaluate policies aimed at improving preschool quality and to examine the impact of preschool programs on children's cognitive outcomes.

The first two papers of the dissertation address efforts to raise teacher education levels in Head Start, the federally-funded preschool intervention that targets three and four-year-olds living in poverty. Between 1998 and 2007 the percentage of teachers in Head Start with an Associate's degree or above rose rapidly from 34 to 77 percent. However, not all Head Start programs have raised their teacher education levels, and in some programs teacher education levels are still quite low. In the first paper I explore whether the simultaneous expansion of state pre-kindergarten programs had the unintended consequence of pulling educated teachers away from Head Start, where the poorest children are served. I use longitudinal data from every Head Start program in the country linked with state and local data on pre-kindergarten enrollment to describe the relationship between proximity to an expanding pre-kindergarten program and Head Start teachers' education levels. My results indicate that Head Start programs operating in states with expanding pre-kindergarten programs tend to experience somewhat slower growth in their use of degreed teachers. On the other hand, Head Start programs operating in states with expanding pre-kindergarten programs actually experienced greater growth in BA-level teachers. The findings suggest the presence of both competitive and collaborative interactions between Head Start and less-targeted state pre-kindergarten.

Paper two examines whether Head Start programs that experienced large changes in teachers' educational levels did so by making trade-offs with respect to other program goals. Training, attracting, and retaining more qualified teachers is an expensive endeavor. Given constrained program budgets, Head Start programs that employed more highly educated teachers may have done so by cutting costs in other program areas. My findings suggest that the rise in teacher education levels is not associated with an observable drop in comprehensive health and social service provision. In contrast, higher teacher education levels are systematically associated with lower levels of both the proportion of the staff that is a minority and the proportion of the staff that is a current or former Head Start parent. Particularly in states where Head Start serves the highest proportions of minority children, raising teacher education levels has been associated with a "whitening" of the staff. To the extent that children benefit from being taught by teachers who match their racial and ethnic backgrounds, this shift may have detrimental effects on children's learning.

The third paper of this dissertation shifts the focus from efforts to improve preschool quality to a direct examination of the impact of preschool interventions. A large body of research suggests that the effects of preschool are particularly pronounced among low-income children. Several recent studies also find that the effects of attending preschool vary by race, with Hispanic children experiencing the greatest gains. These new findings about racial differences are difficult to interpret, however, because the likelihood of enrolling a child in preschool varies substantially across groups. This paper examines both the process by which families make child care decisions and the causal impact of this care. I use newly-released data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (Birth Cohort) and a multinomial propensity score matching technique. After carefully accounting for differential selection, I still find meaningful differences in the magnitude of preschool effects across racial groups. However, these differences are eliminated when I limit analysis to children in poverty. On average, poor children, irrespective of race, benefit substantially from preschool. In contrast, among a non-poor sample, I find that black children benefit significantly more from preschool than their white or Hispanic counterparts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Loeb, Susanna
Commitee:
School: Stanford University
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: School administration, Early childhood education, Teacher education, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Achievement gap, Early childhood, Education policy, Head Start, Prekindergarten, Teacher education, Universal preschool
Publication Number: 3364495
ISBN: 978-1-109-24282-9
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