• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 29th March, 2012

Preschool evidence has been right from the start?

There’s plenty of research evidence to support the claim that poor children don’t do as well in school as more affluent children. One might conclude that if you could just find decent employment for parents, their children would fare better in school and eventually find decent employment themselves, soon ending the negative cycle of poverty. But the evidence does not support this idea. Some poor children do quite well in school. And, although their “socioeconomic status” (which includes not only their families’ wealth, but also their parents’ occupation, education, and place of residence) is usually related to how well they do, it is not a stronger predictor of academic performance. In other words, if you want to predict which children in a given classroom will be the strongest students, you would do better to consider other factors besides the socioeconomic status of their families.The question is, what are those other factors? And are they malleable? A group of UK researchers led by Edward C. Melhuish of the University of London (and Executive Director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start) collected information on the academic progress, family backgrounds, and home life of over 2,000 children who attended 141 preschool centers in England. The researchers tracked their progress between the ages of three and seven.They found that children of parents who encouraged learning at home – by reading to their children, taking them to the library, painting and drawing, teaching numbers and letters, singing, and/or reading poetry—were more likely to surpass expectations based on their family backgrounds. Which preschool a child attended also appeared to matter. However, it was not clear exactly what it was about some preschools that made them more likely to help children overcome the poverty handicap.The findings thus add more strength to the already persuasive arguments about the value of preschool in leveling the playing field for disadvantaged students. When it comes to consistent implementation and sound evaluation, some parts of the puzzle are still missing, but programs such as Head Start in the US and Sure Start in the UK, which also focus on parenting issues and specifically encourage positive interaction between children and parents, are probably the most helpful.**********Summary of “Effects of the Home Learning Environment and Preschool Center Experience upon Literacy and Numeracy Development in Early Primary School” by Edward C. Melhuish, Mai B. Phan, Kathy Sylva, Pam Sammons, Iram Siraj-Blatchford, and Brenda Taggart in Journal of Social Issues, 2008, Volume 64 Issue 1, pp 95-114.

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