Early Learning Programs and Policies
Preparing to Succeed: An Efficacy Trial of Two Early Childhood Curricula
Co-Principal Investigators: Nonie Lesaux, Richard Murnane, John Willett, and Christina Weiland
Purpose: Given the current interest in national and state initiatives to expand early childhood programming, questions of under what conditions impacts can be sustained, and for whom, are of great practical importance. Among the unanswered questions in the literature are the effects of a uniform curriculum across a large-scale program and how such impacts vary depending on the specific curricula used. The proposed regression discontinuity study addresses this gap in the literature by examining the impacts of a year of exposure to two commonly used preschool curricula in a public prekindergarten program. The purpose of the study is to examine the impact of one year in a prekindergarten program on children's literacy, mathematics, executive functioning, and socioemotional outcomes.
Project Activities: The research team will use a regression discontinuity (RD) approach to assess the impact of one year of preschool education in 4-year-old classrooms using two preschool curricula, with 1,700 children who attended the prekindergarten program in 2008-2009 constituting the treatment group and 1,700 children who will attend preschool in 2009-2010 constituting the control group. They will identify the treatment and control groups using school records, assess children in fall and spring, conduct observations in a subset of preschool classrooms, and complete data analyses to examine the impact of prekindergarten participation on children’s school readiness.
Products: The products of this project will be evidence of the efficacy of one year participation in a prekindergarten program on children's literacy, mathematics, executive functioning and socioemotional outcomes, and published reports.
Setting: The study will be conducted in a sample of preschool and kindergarten classrooms in a large, urban school district in Massachusetts.
Population: The study sample will include 1,700 children who will participate in a public prekindergarten program in 2009-2010 and 1,700 children who were not eligible to participate in the program because of birthday age cutoff. The sample includes children from diverse racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and language backgrounds.
Intervention: The intervention is one year of enrollment in a 4-year-old prekindergarten program that has implemented the Opening the World of Learning (OWL; Schickedanz and Dickinson 2005) and Building Blocks (Clements and Sarama 2007) preschool curricula. The OWL is a comprehensive curriculum for preschool-aged children organized into six theme-based units. Each unit targets children’s phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, early writing, expressive/receptive vocabulary, oral language, and gross and fine motor skills. Each thematic unit includes eight books, with a mix of fiction and nonfiction books. Each unit is accompanied by a teacher’s guide that includes unit and weekly planners specifying the sequence of activities for each day.
Building Blocks is a prekindergarten mathematics curriculum with a focus on two areas: (1) numbers and simple arithmetic; (2) geometry, measurement, and spatial sense. The curriculum covers 30 weeks and students receive approximately 30 minutes of numeracy instruction each day. In the prekindergarten classrooms, numeracy activities are embedded in whole-group activities, weekly small-group work with the teacher, math centers (three to four times per week), and computer activities to reinforce the activities presented in whole and small groups (two sessions per week).
Research Design and Methods: The research team will use a regression discontinuity (RD) approach to assess the impact of one year of preschool education in 4-year-old classrooms using two preschool curricula, with 1,700 children who attended the prekindergarten program in 2008-2009 constituting the treatment group and 1,700 children who will attend preschool in 2009-2010 constituting the control group. A birthday age cutoff was used to determine participation in the public prekindergarten program during the 2008-2009 school year versus the 2009-2010 school year. During the 2008-2009 year, the control group experienced “business as usual,” with parents placing children in a variety of care settings. Using the RD approach, the research team will estimate impacts of one year of participation in a public prekindergarten 4-year-classroom that has implemented the OWL and Building Blocks on children’s literacy, numeracy, executive functioning and socioemotional outcomes.
Control Condition: In the control condition, children were not enrolled in the public prekindergarten program during the 2008-2009 school year. The control group experienced “business as usual,” with parents placing children in a variety of care settings.
Key Measures: The research team will select a random sample of classrooms and conduct classroom observations using the OWL and Building Blocks fidelity measures. They will conduct child-level data collection using the following measures: the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised (PPVT-R), the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test (EOWPVT), the Woodcock-Johnson Letter-Word Identification and Applied Problems subscales, a subset of items from the Research-based Elementary Mathematics Assessment (REMA), the Task Orientation Questionnaire, the Pencil Tapping task, the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, the Emotion Recognition Questionnaire (ERQ), and the Challenging Situations Task (CST).
Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will conduct regression analyses to examine the impact of one year in a prekindergarten program implementing OWL and Building Blocks for the sample as a whole, and for subgroups of children. They will use instrumental variables techniques to look at the causal relationship between primary outcomes targeted by the curricula (literacy and numeracy) and secondary outcomes (executive functioning and socioemotional skills).
Journal article, monograph, or newsletter
Weiland, C., and Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Impacts of a Prekindergarten Program on Children's Mathematics, Language, Literacy, Executive Function, and Emotional Skills. Child Development, 84(6): 2112–2130.
Weiland, C., Ulvestad, K., Sachs, J., and Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Associations Between Classroom Quality and Children's Vocabulary and Executive Function Skills in an Urban Public Prekindergarten Program. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2): 199–209.
Weiland, C., Wolfe, C.B., Hurwitz, M.D., Clements, D.H., Sarama, J., and Yoshikawae, H. (2012). Early Mathematics Assessment: Validation of the Short Form of a Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Mathematics Measure. Educational Psychology, 32(3): 311–333.