Topic Area Focus
The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) review in this topic area focuses on early childhood education (ECE) interventions (curricula and practices, as defined below) designed for use in center-based settings with 3- to 5-year-old children who are not yet in kindergarten or children who are in preschool, with a primary focus on cognitive and language competencies associated with school readiness (language, literacy, math, and cognition). Interventions and studies with a primary focus on socio-emotional development and approaches to learning may be addressed in a subsequent phase of the review.
The review includes a focus on center-based early childhood education interventions designed to improve the school readiness skills of preschool children with developmental delays or diagnosed disabilities. These may be inclusive interventions used with all children or targeted interventions designed specifically for children with developmental delays or diagnosed disabilities.
A systematic review of evidence in this topic area addresses the following questions:
Early Childhood Education Intervention. The WWC ECE review examines evidence of the effectiveness of center-based early childhood education interventions (curricula and practices) designed to improve children's school readiness, focusing on those interventions that have as their primary goal improving preschool children's cognitive and language competencies.
Programs defined by funding streams or service delivery models are not considered interventions for this review. For example, Head Start programs and state-supported pre-kindergarten programs are not considered interventions, although specific curricula or practices used by these programs may be eligible for the review.
ECE policies that influence the conditions under which curricula and practices are implemented are not considered interventions for the review at this time. For instance, mandates concerning teacher qualifications or student: teacher ratios are not considered interventions; however, to the extent possible, the impact of these policies on the impact of an intervention are reviewed.
Short-term learning trials, which are relatively brief studies of systematic variations in parameters of how children are exposed to materials or assessed, are not considered interventions for the review at this time. Short-term learning trials often involve systematic manipulation of stimulus presentation, feedback type, or material content. Outcomes are generally measured immediately following the manipulation, which may last one or only a few sessions, often in a within-subjects experimental design.
Variations in implementation characteristics of early childhood education programs. The different forms of early childhood interventions are distinguished along with any associated differences in their outcomes. Within the category of curricula, the review distinguishes those that are comprehensive and those that are supplemental.
Within the category of practices, the review distinguishes general and targeted practices.
School Readiness. Within the field of early childhood education, children's school readiness is typically understood to encompass:
Preschool curricula and practices may have a focus on cognitive and language competencies, socio-emotional development, or both. Preschool curricula also may address explicitly the issues of physical health and motor development. The initial focus of this review is on curricula and practices that have cognitive and language competencies as their primary focus. A subsequent focus of the review may be on curricula and practices that have socio-emotional development as their primary focus. Curricula and practices with a dual focus (i.e., both cognitive and language competencies and socio-emotional development as determined by a scope and sequence or other explicit statement of focus) are reviewed with other interventions that have a focus on cognitive and language development if the primary content of the materials focuses on cognitive and language outcomes. Similarly, dual-focus curricula and practices are reviewed with other interventions that have a primary focus on socio-emotional development if the primary content of the materials focuses on socio-emotional outcomes. Curricula or practices that have a primary focus on physical health and motor development, although important, are not included in this review.
Preschoolers. Preschoolers are 3- to 5-year-old children who have not yet entered kindergarten or children who are in preschool.
Preschoolers with Disabilities. Preschoolers with disabilities are 3- to 5-year-old children who have not yet entered kindergarten or children who are in preschool who are eligible for special education and related services under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Eligible children are those with diagnosed disabilities and developmental delays who need special education and related services.