Children enrolled for a year in an enhanced Head Start program known as Educare show better results on tests of auditory and expressive language skills, parent-reported problem behaviors, and parent-child interactions compared to children who were not able to enroll in the program, a new study has found.
The report, published this month in Child Development, tracked more than 200 children under the age of 19 months. The children were either enrolled in Educare, a national program that blends federal, public, and private dollars to support children from birth to age 5, or in a “business as usual” control group of children who were not able to enroll in Educare because the program was full.
There are 21 Educare programs in 18 cities, serving rural, suburban and urban communities. The model includes embedded professional development for teachers, the use of data to guide decisionmaking, and high-quality teaching practices. Each school is housed in a new or remodeled center that includes infant, toddler, and preschool classrooms. Schools are open 8 to 10 hours a day, and all children attend at least 6 hours a day. Children enroll as young as 6 weeks of age, with the goal of serving them until they start kindergarten.
Many of the quality features of Educare are a part of the new Head Start performance standards that were released in September. Those standards include an expansion of the Head Start day and year, and a focus on coaching as a part of teacher professional development.
Because Educare programs are often oversubscribed, researchers were able to compare children who enrolled in the program to those who were not able to attend. Five Educare schools participated in this study. About half of the children were black, more than a third were Hispanic, and about half were boys.
The positive effects on the children enrolled in Educare were described in the study as being in the modest to medium range. “The strength of these results after one year of treatment provides additional evidence that intervening early can set low-income children on more positive developmental courses,” the study noted.
“What this shows us is starting really early matters tremendously,” said Diana Rauner, the president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which is one of the founders of the 17-year-old Educare program. “Center-based, high-quality early-childhood education has meaningful impact on early measures of outcomes that we care a lot about,” she said.
The center-based aspect of Educare’s model is important because it allows high-quality care to be standardized and provided to many children.
“That’s not to say there aren’t loving, wonderful child-care homes,” Rauner said. “But from a policy perspective, how can we get as many children in as possible?”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.