The antecedents and outcomes of preschool programs for children in America




Ansari, Arya

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There has been an increased interest in the early childhood years as a point of intervention and, specifically, on preschool programs, which hold great promise in preparing children for school. Despite the extensive body of literature on preschool education, there remain a number of key issues that need to be addressed to move the early childhood field forward. This dissertation addresses three of these areas that require continued attention. First, we need to know why Latino children from U.S.- and foreign-born households are under-enrolled in preschool education (Aim 1). The second area that we need to know more about is the potential long-term benefits of large-scale preschool programs (Aim 2). Finally, the third area where more information is needed is on the different sources of heterogeneity in the benefits of preschool for children (Aim 3). Thus, the aims of this dissertation were to address these gaps in the knowledge-base by using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth (ECLS-B) and Kindergarten (ECLS-K 1998) Cohorts. The first set of findings reveals that there are important differences that exist within the Latino population (culture, household resources, parents’ beliefs about school readiness, and child elicitation) with respect to preschool selection. These differences indicate that, in order to boost the preschool enrollment of Latino children from U.S.- and foreign-born households, policymakers may need to focus on targeting a specific set of barriers. Findings from Aim 2 underscore the potential long-term benefits of preschool education. Specifically, despite evidence for partial convergence of test scores, children who attended preschool at age four consistently outperformed their classmates who attended informal care in areas of academic achievement through the end of middle school. Although all children benefited from preschool participation, analyses from Aim 3 of this dissertation revealed that there was evidence for systematic heterogeneity, with findings supporting developmental theories on cumulative advantage and diverging destinies. Taken together, the results from this dissertation add to the existing evidence base on preschool education by highlighting new means of engaging families in the preschool market and underscoring both how and why preschool programs have long-term benefits for children.


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