OU-Tulsa early childhood study shows Educare students retained advantage through early grades
The academic impact of high quality early childhood programming on children lasts beyond the earliest elementary grades, a multiyear study conducted by the Early Childhood Education Institute at the University of Oklahoma’s Tulsa campus suggests.
Published in late 2022 by the academic journal “Education Sciences,” the study started in 2010 and followed 75 randomly selected Tulsa children starting from when they were 19 months old or younger through the end of the third grade.
Thirty-seven of the children attended a Tulsa Educare site as infants, toddlers and preschoolers, while the other 38 children in the study were spread across other early childhood options around the Tulsa area, such as staying at home with a family member or babysitter.
Part of a national network, Tulsa Educare uses a structured, developmentally-appropriate curriculum at its four sites and offers wraparound services to participating families. A child who can be considered for enrollment must be in a foster placement or have a disability or developmental delay, or their family must meet certain income requirements.
Along with classroom observations, researchers did assessments with the children twice per year, plus asked parents and teachers to record their observations about the children’s behavior, relationships and social-emotional development.
Even after accounting for external variables, such as household income levels and whether the children were read to at home, the Educare alumni consistently scored better through the course of the study on the assessments on word and letter identification, vocabulary, oral comprehension and math than the children who did not attend the program.
“The achievement gap and the low performance of American school kids is something that has been debated for decades,” study co-author Diane Horm said. “If investing in high quality early childhood education is the answer, which this study suggests that investing in high quality early childhood education before the age of 2, we can change educational trajectories for children.”
However, no differences were found between the two groups of children with respect to social-emotional skills. That portion of the study relied primarily on observations from parents and teachers rather than formal assessments.
The director of OU-Tulsa’s Early Childhood Education Institute, Horm said the findings are a sign that the academic benefits of early childhood education do not dissipate for children once they start elementary school. She also said the findings show the need for greater public investment in such programs.
“There’s been a lot of debate about investing in high quality early childhood education,” she said. “When I talk to people out on the street, there’s a belief in fade out and that it (early childhood education) in the long run doesn’t really make any difference. Our study challenges that common assumption.
“Our study shows that high quality early childhood education started at young age and participated in consistently — we found lasting cognitive, preacademic skill impacts. Those kids entered kindergarten boosted, and those boosts lasted.”
Cindy Decker, executive director of Tulsa Educare, said her staff was apprised of the study’s findings before publication and that the results were a welcome reinforcement to Educare teachers that their work has an impact.
“This preliminary finding was presented to our teachers in August,” Decker said. “I heard for weeks after that it confirmed that what they’re doing is making a difference and made them proud of what they’re doing and secure with what they’re doing.”
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