The Effects of Head Start in Low-Wealth Rural Communities: Evidence From the Family Life Project

The long-term impacts of early childhood education programming may depend on access to high-quality educational environments in elementary school. However, the extent to which higher-quality elementary school contexts help to sustain the long-term impacts of the federal Head Start program has not been studied extensively, especially in relation to children's social-emotional skills and especially in rural regions of the United States.

The purpose of this dissertation study is to examine the impact of Head Start participation on children's academic and social-emotional skills in the spring of pre-kindergarten (pre-k) and in the spring of kindergarten. Additionally, this study will examine if the impact on children’s spring of kindergarten skills varies by (1) the quality of teacher–child interactions in kindergarten classrooms and (2) the level of school-wide academic performance in elementary schools. The study sample will be drawn from the Family Life Project (FLP)—a population-based birth-cohort study of 1,292 children and families living in three low-wealth rural counties in Eastern North Carolina and Central Pennsylvania (Vernon-Feagans, Cox, & The FLP Key Investigators, 2013). Propensity score weighting will be used to identify comparable groups of children who participated in Head Start during the pre-k period and children who participated in some alternative type of child care arrangement.

This dissertation study aims to identify characteristics of kindergarten classroom and elementary school contexts that contribute to Head Start children's continued learning across the transition to school in order to inform policymaking related to this topic, both in the state of North Carolina and nationally. The study is being conducted in partnership with the North Carolina Head Start–State Collaboration Office at the Department of Public Instruction.

Funding to conduct this work has been provided by a Head Start Graduate Student Research Grant from the U.S. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

FPG Project Staff:
Lynne Vernon-Feagans, Principal Investigator
Robert C. Carr, Co-Principal Investigator
Funding Agency: Administration for Children and Families
Funding Period: 09/30/2018 - 09/29/2019
Award Amount: $25,000
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