The Early Achievement and Development Gap. What does the evidence suggest for early care and education policies and programs intended to support school readiness for all children?


There are potentially multiple ways to help support the development of young children (e.g., parenting or health interventions); however, the most consistent evidence for supporting children's school readiness skills surrounds high-quality early care and education (ECE) programs. Expanding ECE services or targeting intensive early services to low-income children and their families may help narrow gaps in achievement and development. A recent meta-analysis of more than 65 studies found that ECE attendance had small to moderate effects (average effect size of .33 of a SD) on children's cognitive and achievement outcomes at the program's end. Across all follow-up data collection waves, effect sizes were small (averaged .26 of a SD), with impacts diminishing over time, on average, yet persisting for ten years.[35] The results of other meta-analytic studies also point to the positive effects of preschool education, with the largest effects on cognitive skills and smaller effects on socio-emotional skills.[36]Additionally, there is some evidence that participation in programs such as Head Start is related to better health outcomes for children (e.g., increased receipt of health screenings, immunizations, and dental exams).[37]

Expansions in access to high-quality ECE programs may help narrow gaps in achievement and development. We know that certain groups of children - Hispanic children, those from low-income families, immigrant families, and with less-educated parents - are less likely to be enrolled in preschool than their counterparts. For other groups of children who are already enrolled in preschool at relatively high rates, such as Black children, the more salient issue is that they tend to be in lower-quality settings.[38] Studies of universal pre-K programs in cities like Tulsa and Boston show that attending high-quality ECE benefits all children, but that attendance is especially beneficial to the most disadvantaged children and children from certain ethnic minority groups.[39] This suggests that expansions in access to high-quality ECE programs would likely benefit children across income and ethnic and racial groups, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.[40]

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