A Contributing Role of Parental Investments in Early Learning to Head Start Impacts on Children’s Language and Literacy: Examining How Mechanisms of Program Impact Differ for Spanish-Speaking Dual Language Learners (DLL) and Non-DLL
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CitationOh, Soojin S. 2015. A Contributing Role of Parental Investments in Early Learning to Head Start Impacts on Children’s Language and Literacy: Examining How Mechanisms of Program Impact Differ for Spanish-Speaking Dual Language Learners (DLL) and Non-DLL. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractHead Start is the largest and longest-standing publicly-funded preschool program, serving close to 1 million low-income children and their families, with an annual budget of over $10 billion. While early childhood programs such as Head Start have the potential to address the racial disparities and the income-based opportunity gap, the field still lacks sophisticated understanding of what works for whom and why. Most research on early childhood education has focused greater attention on evaluating programs than on identifying the particular ingredients in these programs that produce significant improvements in children’s learning. While it is important to find out whether the program worked, I am more interested in why Head Start worked.
In 2002, the Congress mandated the national Head Start Impact Study (HSIS)—an experimental study of a nationally representative sample of 4,440 preschoolers, with participating children being randomized to an offer of attendance in Head Start versus assignment to a control condition, under which no offer was made. The HSIS found that an offer had small impacts on children’s language and literacy. While Head Start’s two-generation approach has emphasized engaging parents in their children’s early learning from its inception in 1965, we do not know to date whether an offer of Head Start improves parental investments, and whether this, in turn, augments the positive effects of the offer on children’s outcomes. Additionally, the HSIS reported that an offer of program attendance produced larger impacts among Spanish-speaking Dual Language Learners (DLL), but the question remains why these particular children benefitted from the program more than did their English-speaking peers.
To unpack the mechanisms that mediated these detected effects—through parenting practices—I employed two complementary analytic strategies:  multilevel structural-equation modeling and  average causal mediation effect estimation, by reanalyzing the original study data. A central aim of my research was to: (a) investigate whether ITT effects on early child language and literacy were mediated through parenting practices, and (b) conducting multi-group comparisons to test whether the impact of these mediational pathways differed by the child’s language status. I found that, on average, assignment increased children’s vocabulary and reading scores (e.s. =+.13; e.s.=+.17, respectively). The randomized offer also increased the frequency of parent-child language-and-literacy activities (e.s.= +.25). In addition to the causal impacts of the program, I observed causal mediation effects, and these mediational effects of program impact on both vocabulary and reading scores differed by DLL status.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:16461040