The report notes the increased focus on early childhood interventions and outcomes that have defined the last 20 years (download the eBook for free):
“The past two decades have been characterized by a growing body of research from diverse disciplines — child development, psychology, neuroscience, and economics, among others — demonstrating the importance of establishing a strong foundation in the early years of life. The research evidence has served to document the range of early childhood services that can successfully put children and families on the path toward lifelong health and well-being, especially those at greatest risk of poor outcomes.”
The authors note: “As a period of rapid growth in foundational cognitive, social, and emotional skills, early childhood represents a particularly sensitive time for the promotion of children’s educational potential (Shonkoff & Philips, 2000). Reflecting this promise, rates of enrollment in state-funded early childhood education (ECE) programs have risen dramatically in recent years, more than doubling between 2002 and 2016 (Barnett et al., 2017; Barnett, Hustedt, Robin, & Schulman, 2003). Despite increased investment in publicly funded ECE programming as a mechanism to promote learning, the ability of ECE to improve children’s educational outcomes in middle childhood and adolescence remains uncertain for both methodological and substantive reasons.”
The authors recognize that “understanding the possible benefits of ECE for mitigating negative educational outcomes such as these is of particular importance to educational policymaking.” Why?
They state: “In the present study, we conduct a meta-analysis of high-quality research studies to provide an up-to-date estimate of the overall impact of ECE program participation on three distinct medium- and long-term educational outcomes: special education placement, grade retention, and high school graduation. We focus on these outcomes for several reasons. First, previous literature suggests that the skills typically targeted by ECE programming—including cognitive skills in language, literacy, and math as well as socio-emotional capacities in self-regulation, motivation/engagement, and persistence—are likely precursors of children’s ability to maintain a positive academic trajectory (Heckman, Pinto, & Savelyev, 2013). As a result, educational outcomes are theoretically relevant as more distal targets of ECE programming. Second, the prevalence and cost of special education, grade retention, and especially high school dropout are large (Levin, Belfield, Muennig, & Rouse, 2007).”
To make their evaluations of long-term education benefits, the authors “employ data from a comprehensive meta-analytic database of ECE program evaluations published between 1960 and 2007 as well as a supplement to this database covering studies published between 2007 and 2016.”
In addition, “all studies met strict inclusion criteria based on study design, attrition, and relevance. From this larger database, we focus on estimates for three educational outcomes (special education placement, grade retention, and high school dropout) and conduct sensitivity analyses probing differences based on model specification and the time between the end of the ECE program and the outcome measurement.”