Understanding the relationship between Texas' early childhood education delivery system and first grade retention : an ecology systems analysis

Gasko, John W., 1973-
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This study examined which predictor measures best explain first grade retention in Texas, using three campus configuration types. Predictor measures were chosen from Texas public school campus student demographic and operational data, as well as community-based early childhood program data. Prior to this study, no research had been conducted in Texas that merged public school-based early childhood program data with community-based early childhood program data in order to understand a historical and often neglected problem in the state's education system: the number of students being held back in first grade. To determine which predictor measures best explained first grade retention among selected campus configuration types, a hierarchical regression analysis was conducted. Initially, public school campuses that did not contain early childhood and/or pre- kindergarten programs in their campus configuration, and that generally served students with fewer risks for academic and social failure, had lower first grade retention rates, which were statistically significant. After controlling for multiple campus student demographic and operational predictor measures, as well as access to community-based early childhood programs per first grade student, however, campuses that contained early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs, or a combination of both, had retention rates that were no longer statistically different from the campus configurations that, on average, contained fewer economically disadvantaged and at-risk students. Although the study was a systems-level analysis and was restricted to making inferences at the aggregate level that were non-causal, the findings provided several clues that suggest early childhood programs and experiences, both internal and external to public school campuses, have the potential to affect the short- and long-term academic success of vulnerable children. The study encouraged collaboration between the public school system and a complex, diverse community-based early childhood system, using a "vulnerable neighborhood approach" (Bruner,2007), as one effective strategy for promoting school readiness and success for disadvantaged children, and as one means to address this challenge.