ECEC quality improvements and future academic gains linked in landmark Harvard study
A new longitudinal study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and published in the journal Child Development has provided further insight into the relationship between the provision of quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) and academic achievement in post-preschool settings.
The program, which focused on teachers’ professional development and classroom management as a means to improving quality in pre-school, was seen to boost participants grades in high school which, the researchers say, can be explained partly by the academic gains experienced in the early years.
The study was conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Assistant Professor Dana Charles McCoy, HGSE professor Stephanie Jones, and doctoral student Katie Gonzalez and used as its base sample set data gathered from an experimental longitudinal teacher professional development and coaching program, The Chicago School Readiness Project, that took place in 35 classrooms across 18 centres in 2004 and 2005.
These centres were part of the Head Start network in Chicago, Illinois.
Head Start is a federally funded preschool program with a focus on providing ECEC services to low income families. The centres were recruited into the program based on their location in high-crime, high-poverty neighbourhoods.
466 preschoolers aged 3 to 4 years old were included in the study
In total, 466 preschoolers from low income, racially and ethnically diverse families aged between three and four years old were selected for the study.
Half of the preschoolers attended one of the 18 centres participating in the Chicago School Readiness Project, the other half attended Head Start centres that were delivering the traditional Head Start programs.
Both sets of children were subjected to assessments of self regulation and academic skills at the start and the end of their preschool year and then followed up with a second set of tests 10 years later when they were in high school.
The researchers then commenced an analysis of the two sets of assessments to try and understand if there was a relationship between stronger assessment results in preschool and academic performance in high school.
Results highlight teacher professional development and coaching as key variable
The study found that the long-term positive impact of the program on participants’ high school grades could be explained in part by gains made in preschool vocabulary and math skills which, it is hypothesised, were made possible by the more effective teaching practices embodied in the professional development and classroom coaching practices that made up the Chicago School readiness project.
In particular, the study notes that providing teachers with positive classroom management and stress reduction strategies may have led to a more positive classroom climate, which in turn resulted in immediate improvements in students’ self-regulatory and academic skills.
Commenting on the outcomes Ms McCoy noted “Our results point to the sustained impacts of interventions that provide quality enhancements to existing preschool programming” and “in disadvantaged contexts, efforts to improve the well-being of preschool teachers and classroom management appeared to result in long-term benefits for children’s academic outcomes, even in the absence of additional supports for instruction.”
Basic vocabulary and maths skills lays groundwork for academic competencies
In addition to the relationship between teaching strategies and academic performance the study also highlighted the link between children’s basic vocabulary and math skills, in particular, and more advanced academic competencies over time.
Maths was also seen as possibly a determinant in improvements in domain-general skills such as regulating of emotions and managing impulses, known as executive function.