Does Access to High Quality Early Education Vary by State Policy ContextReport as inadecuate

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Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness

Research suggests that attending high quality, formal early childhood education (ECE) is associated with stronger cognitive and social-emotional skills, especially for low-income children. Yet at current funding levels, federally-funded programs like Head Start cannot serve all eligible children. Thus, state-level policies governing the accessibility and quality of alternative ECE programs for low-income families may be particularly important in filling this gap. This study capitalizes on variation in state policies that shape both children's access to formal ECE programs and the quality of those programs and on the random assignment design of the Head Start Impact Study. This research uses data from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS), which includes 4,440 3- and 4-year-old children who were randomly assigned off a waitlist to either receive an offer to participate in Head Start or to the control group. Consistent with expectations, the author's preliminary findings suggest that, in general, a state's commitment to ECE is related to low-income families' increased access to formal and high quality ECE when denied access to Head Start, and to smaller impacts of Head Start on enrollment in formal and high quality ECE. This information can inform both state-level policy and federal Head Start policy on how to become more effective and efficient by: (1) understanding the types of state policies most closely associated with low-income families' access to formal and high quality ECE; and (2) understanding the kinds of state policy contexts in which Head Start resources can be focused to provide a service not otherwise available to the population it serves. The following are appended: (1) References; and (2) Tables and Figures.

Descriptors: Access to Education, Educational Quality, Early Childhood Education, State Policy, Educational Policy, Interpersonal Competence, Social Development, Emotional Development, Low Income Students, Federal Programs

Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. 2040 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208. Tel: 202-495-0920; Fax: 202-640-4401; e-mail: inquiries[at]; Web site:

Author: Connors, Maia C.; Morris, Pamela A.; Friedman-Krauss, Allison H.


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