Category Archives: At home

No shit, Sherlock: School bullying linked to lower academic achievement

This study sounds almost too obvious to share, still I think it’s very important: this study that tracked hundreds of children from kindergarten through high school found that chronic or increasing levels of bullying were related to lower academic achievement, a dislike of school and low confidence by students in their own academic abilities.

From the press release:

While pop culture often depicts more frequent bullying in high school, the study found that bullying was more severe and frequent in elementary school and tended to taper off for most students as they got older. However, 24 percent of the children in the study suffered chronic bullying throughout their school years, which was consistently related to lower academic achievement and less engagement in school, said lead researcher Gary Ladd, PhD, a psychology professor at Arizona State University.

“It’s extremely disturbing how many children felt bullied at school,” Ladd said. “For teachers and parents, it’s important to know that victimization tends to decline as kids get older, but some children never stop suffering from bullying during their school years.”

Most studies on bullying have tracked children for relatively short periods of time and focused on psychological effects, such as anxiety or depression. This is the first long-term study to track children for more than a decade from kindergarten through high school and analyze connections between bullying and academic achievement, Ladd said. The research, which was published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology, was part of the Pathways Project, a larger longitudinal study of children’s social, psychological and academic adjustment in school that is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The study, which began with 383 kindergarteners (190 boys, 193 girls) from public schools in Illinois, found several different trajectories for children related to bullying. Children who suffered chronic levels of bullying during their school years (24 percent of sample) had lower academic achievement, a greater dislike of school and less confidence in their academic abilities. Children who had experienced moderate bullying that increased later in their school years (18 percent) had findings similar to kids who were chronically bullied. However, children who suffered decreasing bullying (26 percent) showed fewer academic effects that were similar to youngsters who had experienced little or no bullying (32 percent), which revealed that some children could recover from bullying if it decreased. Boys were significantly more likely to suffer chronic or increasing bullying than girls.

“Some kids are able to escape victimization, and it looks like their school engagement and achievement does tend to recover,” Ladd said. “That’s a very hopeful message.”

The researchers faced the difficult challenge of tracking children for more than a decade, from kindergarten through high school, as some families moved across the United States. The study began in school districts in Illinois, but the children were living in 24 states by the fifth year of the study. “People moved and we had to track them down all over the country,” Ladd said. “We put people in cars or on planes to see these kids.”

The study included annual surveys administered by researchers to the children, teacher evaluations, and standardized reading and math test scores. Children described their own experiences about bullying in questions that asked whether they had been hit, picked on or verbally abused by other kids. Some children may be more sensitive to bullying, with one child who is shoved thinking it is bullying while another might think it is just playful, but parents and teachers shouldn’t dismiss what may seem like minor bullying, Ladd said.

“Frequently, kids who are being victimized or abused by other kids don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I worry most about sensitive kids who are not being taken seriously and who suffer in silence. They are being told that boys will be boys and girls will be girls and that this is just part of growing up.”

The children from the study were followed into early adulthood, although researchers lost track of approximately one-quarter of the youngsters during the lengthy study. Approximately 77 percent of the children in the study were white, 18 percent were African-American, and 4 percent were Hispanic, biracial or had other backgrounds. Almost one-quarter of the children came from families with low annual incomes ($0- $20,000), 37 percent had low to middle incomes ($20,001-$50,000), and 39 percent had middle to high incomes (more than $50,000).

Schools should have anti-bullying programs, and parents should ask their children if they are being bullied or excluded at school, Ladd said. In the early years of the study, school administrators sometimes claimed there weren’t any bullies or victims in their schools, but the researchers stopped hearing that view as bullying has received more attention nationwide, Ladd said.

“There has been a lot of consciousness raising and stories of children being bullied and committing suicide, and that has raised public concern,” he said. “But more needs to be done to ensure that children aren’t bullied, especially for kids who suffer in silence from chronic bullying throughout their school years.”

Abstract of the study:

This investigation’s aims were to map prevalence, normative trends, and patterns of continuity or change in school-based peer victimization throughout formal schooling (i.e., Grades K–12), and determine whether specific victimization patterns (i.e., differential trajectories) were associated with children’s academic performance. A sample of 383 children (193 girls) was followed from kindergarten (Mage = 5.50) through Grade 12 (Mage = 17.89), and measures of peer victimization, school engagement, academic self-perceptions, and achievement were repeatedly administered across this epoch. Although it was the norm for victimization prevalence and frequency to decline across formal schooling, 5 trajectory subtypes were identified, capturing differences in victimization frequency and continuity (i.e., high-chronic, moderate-emerging, early victims, low victims, and nonvictims). Consistent with a chronic stress hypothesis, high-chronic victimization consistently was related to lower—and often prolonged—disparities in school engagement, academic self-perceptions, and academic achievement. For other victimization subtypes, movement into victimization (i.e., moderate-emerging) was associated with lower or declining scores on academic indicators, and movement out of victimization (i.e., early victims) with higher or increasing scores on these indicators (i.e., “recovery”). Findings provide a more complete account of the overall prevalence, stability, and developmental course of school-based peer victimization than has been reported to date.

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A different tune on personality: personality traits ‘contagious’ among children

Last semester I explained to my students that there are different views on personality: dynamic versus static theories which could be summed up by the simple question “can you ever change your partner?”. This new study by Michigan State University psychology researchers is rather in the dynamic area as it shows that when preschoolers spend time around one another, they tend to take on each others’ personalities. Guess you are already looking at your kids in a whole different way…

From the press release:

The study, published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests personality is shaped by environment and not just genes.

“Our finding, that personality traits are ‘contagious’ among children, flies in the face of common assumptions that personality is ingrained and can’t be changed,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor of psychology and co-investigator on the study. “This is important because some personality traits can help children succeed in life, while others can hold them back.”

The researchers studied two preschool classes for an entire school year, analyzing personality traits and social networks for one class of 3-year-olds and one class of 4-year-olds.

Children whose play partners were extroverted or hard-working became similar to these peers over time. Children whose play partners were overanxious and easily frustrated, however, did not take on these particular traits. The study is the first to examine these personality traits in young children over time.

Emily Durbin, study co-investigator and associate professor of psychology, said kids are having a bigger effect on each other than people may realize.

“Parents spend a lot of their time trying to teach their child to be patient, to be a good listener, not to be impulsive,” Durbin said. “But this wasn’t their parents or their teachers affecting them – it was their friends. It turns out that 3- and 4-year-olds are being change agents.”

Abstract of the study:

Children enter preschool with temperament traits that may shape or be shaped by their social interactions in the peer setting. We collected classroom observational measures of positive emotionality (PE), negative emotionality (NE), effortful control (EC), and peer social play relationships from 2 complete preschool classrooms (N = 53 children) over the course of an entire school year. Using longitudinal social network analysis, we found evidence that children’s traits shaped the formation of play relationships, and that the traits of children’s playmates shaped the subsequent development of children’s own traits. Children who exhibited high levels of NE were less likely to form social play relationships over time. In addition, children were more likely to form play relationships with peers who were similar to their own levels of PE. Over the course of the school year, children’s level of PE and EC changed such that they became more similar to their playmates in levels of these traits. Finally, we observed moderate to strong rank-order stability of behavioral observations of PE, NE, and EC across the school year. Our results provide evidence for the effects of traits on the formation of play relationships, as well as for the role of these play relationships in shaping trait expression over time.


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Funny on Sunday: a Chinese choir on nagging parents (put the English captions on)

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Small study shows how parents’ concerns about neighborhood restrict kids’ outdoor play

The press release is a bit too much boosting that it is the first study – this isn’t true, check e.g. here – but this small study does add  elements to discussion on how parents’ fear has an important influence on how much kids can play outdoor.

From the press release:

A study conducted by LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health is the first to demonstrate that parents who are concerned about their neighborhoods restrict their children’s outdoor play. The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The LSU Health New Orleans team designed the study to identify factors that may reduce physical activity among adolescents.

“Physical inactivity is a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic, and a large portion of the adolescent population in the US doesn’t meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity,” notes senior author Melinda Sothern, PhD, CEP, Research Professor at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health. “We were interested in exploring some of the possible reasons.”

The research team measured parents/guardians’ and adolescent participants’ responses to a questionnaire, and they evaluated neighborhood characteristics. Adolescents who are free to play outdoors and travel actively without adult supervision accumulate more physical activity than those who are not; therefore understanding whether parental perceptions of their neighborhood impact physical activity-related parenting behaviors may be crucial to improving overall activity among adolescents.

“Parents who do not trust their neighbors or feel they have no control over neighborhood problems were more likely to restrict their child’s outdoor play,” says lead author Maura Kepper, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health.

In this small study, though, the self-reported responses did not seem to indicate that the parents’ concerns altered their children’s physical activity levels. The role of the physical environment was not clear, yet this exploratory study illustrates the need for further research in larger, more diverse samples of children and adolescents.

“Furthermore, we found that the neighborhood physical environment, such as the presence of graffiti and blighted property in the neighborhood, worsened the problem,” says Kepper, who now also has an appointment at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “Therefore, a child’s ability to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity may be limited. This research is an important first step to identifying targets for community-based programs that seek to facilitate trust and control among neighbors that is needed to increase outdoor play among children and adolescents, especially within poor physical environments.”

Abstract of the study:

Background: The current study examined relationships between the neighborhood social environment (parental perceived collective efficacy (PCE)), constrained behaviors (e.g., avoidance or defensive behaviors) and adolescent offspring neighborhood physical activity in low- versus high-incivility neighborhoods. Methods: Adolescents (n = 71; 11–18 years (14.2, SD ± 1.6); male = 37 (52%); non-white = 24 (33.8%); low-income = 20 (29%); overweight/obese = 40 (56%)) and their parents/guardians enrolled in the Molecular and Social Determinants of Obesity in Developing Youth study were included in the current study. Questionnaires measured parents’/guardians’ PCE, constrained outdoor play practices and offspring neighborhood physical activity. Systematic social observation performed at the parcel-level using Google Street View assessed neighborhood incivilities. t-tests and chi-square tests determined differences by incivilities. Multilevel regression models examined relationships between PCE and: (1) constrained behaviors; and (2) neighborhood physical activity. The Hayes (2013) macro determined the mediating role of constrained behaviors. Results: Parents who had higher PCE reported lower levels of avoidance (p = 0.04) and defensive (p = 0.05) behaviors. However, demographic variables (i.e., gender, race and annual household income) limited these results. The direct relationship between PCE and parent-reported neighborhood physical activity was statistically significant in high-incivility neighborhoods only. Neither avoidance nor defensive behavior mediated the relationship between PCE and neighborhood physical activity. Conclusions: PCE influences parenting behaviors related to youth physical activity. Community-based programs that seek to facilitate social cohesion and control may be needed to increase adolescents’ physical activity.

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Use arts to fight stress in economically disadvantaged preschoolers?

We’ve seen before how stress can have a major impact on young kids, but more interesting: how to fight this. Maybe arts programming can play a role.

From the press release:

Previous research has determined that poverty can harm children’s educational, social-emotional, and physical health, in part by damaging the bodily systems that respond to the chronically high levels of stress that children in poverty are more likely to experience. A new study has found that intensive arts programs–music, dance, and visual arts–may address this phenomenon by lowering the stress levels of economically disadvantaged preschoolers, as measured through cortisol.

The study, by scientists at West Chester University and the University of Delaware, appears in the journal Child Development.

“Our study is the first we know of that demonstrates that the arts may help alleviate the impact of poverty on children’s physiological functioning,” notes Eleanor Brown, professor of psychology and director of the Early Childhood Cognition and Emotions Lab (ECCEL) at West Chester University, who was the study’s primary investigator.

Researchers looked at 310 economically disadvantaged 3- to 5-year-olds attending a Head Start preschool program in Philadelphia that serves children from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. While all Head Start programs have some arts programming, this program–Settlement Music School’s Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program–is unique in that it fully incorporates arts into the curriculum. Children have multiple arts classes each day and these are taught in fully equipped studios by credentialed artteachers. The arts classes are used not only to develop children’s artistic skills but also to promote learning in core early childhood domains like language, literacy, and math.

The study randomly assigned preschoolers by classroom to different types and numbers of arts classes. Researchers measured cortisol levels by analyzing 7,000 samples of children’s saliva; samples were collected at morning baseline, and after arts and homeroom classes on two different days at the start, middle, and end of the school year.

The researchers found that cortisol levels were lower after arts classes than after homeroom, suggesting that taking part in arts programming helped reduce the stress levels of these children.

“The study has important implications,” says Brown. “In an ideal world, no child would grow up in poverty. Working toward this ideal requires attention to not only economic inequities but also to the many related inequities that harm children who grow up poor and to the opportunities for disrupting the strong predictive relationship between poverty and negative outcomes. This study demonstrates that a nonmonetary intervention can reduce cortisol levels. In this case, the intervention is the arts.”

Researchers saw these positive effects at the middle and end of the year, but not at the start of the school year. “The physiological benefits of arts programming may not be seen when children are first exposed,” explains Mallory Garnett, research coordinator at ECCEL, who also worked on the study. “The benefits may depend on children adjusting to the classes and accumulating skills from the programming.”

Adds Dr. Brown: “Our study is notable in rigorously demonstrating that arts programs of high intensity can reduce cortisol levels. This study sets the stage for further investigation regarding the arts as a vehicle for promoting well-being among children from disadvantaged families.”

Abstract of the study:

This within-subjects experimental study investigated the influence of the arts on cortisol for economically disadvantaged children. Participants were 310 children, ages 3–5 years, who attended a Head Start preschool and were randomly assigned to participate in different schedules of arts and homeroom classes on different days of the week. Cortisol was sampled at morning baseline and after arts and homeroom classes on two different days at start, middle, and end of the year. For music, dance, and visual arts, grouped and separately, results of piecewise hierarchical linear modeling with time-varying predictors suggested cortisol was lower after an arts versus homeroom class at middle and end of the year but not start of the year. Implications concern the impact of arts on cortisol for children facing poverty risks.


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A sedentary lifestyle is linked to poorer reading skills for boys

A new Finnish study adds to the long list of negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. More specific the study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Cambridge and recently published in the Journal of Science and Medicine and Sport shows that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to poorer reading skills in the first three school years in 6-8 year old boys.

From the press release:

“Low levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and high levels of sedentary time in Grade 1 were related to better reading skills in Grades 1-3 among boys. We also observed that boys who had a combination of low levels of physical activity and high levels of sedentary time had the poorest reading skills through Grades 1-3,” explains Eero Haapala, PhD, from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä.

The study, constituting part of the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children Study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland and part of the First Steps Study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä, investigated the longitudinal associations of physical activity and sedentary time with reading and arithmetic skills in 153 children aged 6-8 years old in Grades 1-3 of the primary school. Physical activity and sedentary time were measured objectively using a combined heart rate and movement sensor in Grade 1, and reading and arithmetic skills were assessed by standardised tests in Grades 1-3.

The study showed that high levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, low levels of sedentary time, and particularly their combination in Grade 1 were related to better reading skills in Grades 1-3 in boys. High levels of physical activity and low levels of sedentary time were also associated with better arithmetic skills in Grade 1 only in boys. In girls, there were no strong and consistent associations of physical activity and sedentary time with reading or arithmetic skills.

Promoting physically active lifestyle may kick-start boys’ school performance

The results of the study suggest that a combination of low levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and high levels of sedentary time might be particularly harmful for the development of academic skills in boys, and that increasing physical activity, reducing sedentary time, and especially their combination may improve academic achievement.

Abstract of the study (open access):

To investigate the independent and combined associations of objectively measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sedentary time (ST) with reading and arithmetic skills.


Participants were 89 boys and 69 girls aged 6–8 years. MVPA and ST were measured using a combined heart rate and movement sensor and body fat percentage by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry in Grade 1. Reading fluency, reading comprehension, and arithmetic skills were assessed using standardized tests in Grades 1–3. The data were analyzed using linear regression analyses and analyses of covariance with repeated measures.

In boys, MVPA was directly and ST inversely associated with reading fluency in Grades 1–3 and arithmetic skills in Grade 1 (P < 0.05). Higher levels of MVPA were also related to better reading comprehension in Grade 1 (P < 0.05). Most of the associations of MVPA and ST with reading and arithmetic skills attenuated after mutual adjustment for MVPA or ST. Furthermore, boys with a combination of lower levels of MVPA and higher levels of ST had consistently poorer reading fluency (P = 0.002) and reading comprehension (P = 0.027) across Grades 1–3 than other boys. In girls, ST was directly associated with arithmetic skills in Grade 2 (P < 0.05). However, this relationship of ST with arithmetic skills was no longer significant after adjustment for body fat percentage.

Lower levels of MVPA and higher levels of ST and particularly their combination were related to poorer reading skills in boys. In girls, higher levels of ST were related to better arithmetic skills.

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Best evidence in brief: Breakfast clubs boost reading and mathematics results for elementary students

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this study made me hum ‘Don’t you forget about me’, the title song of the movie The Breakfast Club.

But this study is not about a Saturday morning detention…

Breakfast clubs that offer students in elementary schools a free and nutritious meal before school can boost their reading, writing and math results, according to the results of a randomized controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation.

Over the course of an academic year parents of around 8,600 students from 106 elementary schools in England with higher than average numbers of disadvantaged students were encouraged to send their child to free breakfast clubs. The independent evaluation by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Children’s Bureau found that for Year 2 (first grade) children the provision of a breakfast club led to a significant improvement in the main outcome measures of mathematics (Effect Size = +0.15) and reading (+0.10) when compared with schools running “business as usual”. For Year 6 (fifth grade) children, the impact on assessments were positive but slightly smaller in reading (+0.10) and mathematics (+0.08). Surprisingly, there were larger improvements for students not eligible for free school meals than for those eligible.

The evaluators also reported that students’ behavior and concentration improved. Attendance at school also improved for students in breakfast club schools, resulting in about 26 fewer half-days of absence per year for a class of 30. The findings suggest that it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements, but attending a breakfast club. This could be due to the content of the breakfast itself, or to other social or educational benefits of the club.


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Interesting: sleep deprivation affects children’s brains differently than adults’

It’s something we’ve known for quite a while now: children and teens need sleep (you too, btw, but a bit less than those under 18). But there is far less known about the details of how sleep deprivation affects children’s brains and what this means for early brain development.

Well, until now… now we now a bit more what actually happens in the brain.

From the press release:

“The process of sleep may be involved in brain ‘wiring’ in childhood and thus affect brain maturation,” explains Salome Kurth, first author of the study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, and a researcher at the University Hospital of Zurich. “This research shows an increase in sleep need in posterior brain regions in children.”

This contrasts with what researchers know about the effects of sleep deprivation in adults, where the effect is typically concentrated in the frontal regions of the brain.

After staying up too late, both children and adults need a period of deep sleep to recover. This recovery phase is characterized by an increase in an electrical pattern called slow-wave activity, which can be measured with a non-invasive technique called an electroencephalogram. With a large number of electrode channels distributed across the scalp, this method also detects which brain regions show more slow-wave activity than others.

Supported by a large student team, Kurth and her colleagues, Monique LeBourgeois professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Sean Deoni , professor at Brown University, studied the effects of 50% sleep deprivation in a group of 13 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years. The team first measured the children’s deep sleep patterns during a normal night’s sleep. They then re-measured on another night after the researchers had kept the children up well past their bedtimes by reading and playing games with them.

After only getting half of a night’s worth of sleep, the children showed more slow-wave activity towards the back regions of the brain — the parieto-occipital areas. This suggests that the brain circuitry in these regions may be particularly susceptible to a lack of sleep.

The team also measured how this deep sleep activity correlated with the myelin content of the brain — a cornerstone of brain development. Myelin is a fatty microstructure of the brain’s white matter that allows electrical information between brain cells to travel faster. It can be measured with a specific magnetic resonance imaging technique.

“The results show that the sleep loss effect on the brain is specific to certain regions and that this correlates with the myelin content of the directly adjacent regions: the more myelin in a specific area, the more the effect appears similar to adults,” says Kurth. “It is possible that this effect is temporary and only occurs during a ‘sensitive period’ when the brain undergoes developmental changes.”

Further exploration is needed before drawing any conclusions about how insufficient sleep affects early brain developmental processes in the longer term. But for now, these results suggest that going to bed too late may have a different impact on kids’ brains than on adults’.

Abstract of the study:

Brain networks respond to sleep deprivation or restriction with increased sleep depth, which is quantified as slow-wave activity (SWA) in the sleep electroencephalogram (EEG). When adults are sleep deprived, this homeostatic response is most pronounced over prefrontal brain regions. However, it is unknown how children’s developing brain networks respond to acute sleep restriction, and whether this response is linked to myelination, an ongoing process in childhood that is critical for brain development and cortical integration. We implemented a bedtime delay protocol in 5- to 12-year-old children to obtain partial sleep restriction (1-night; 50% of their habitual sleep). High-density sleep EEG was assessed during habitual and restricted sleep and brain myelin content was obtained using mcDESPOT magnetic resonance imaging. The effect of sleep restriction was analyzed using statistical non-parametric mapping with supra-threshold cluster analysis. We observed a localized homeostatic SWA response following sleep restriction in a specific parieto-occipital region. The restricted/habitual SWA ratio was negatively associated with myelin water fraction in the optic radiation, a developing fiber bundle. This relationship occurred bilaterally over parieto-temporal areas and was adjacent to, but did not overlap with the parieto-occipital region showing the most pronounced homeostatic SWA response. These results provide evidence for increased sleep need in posterior neural networks in children. Sleep need in parieto-temporal areas is related to myelin content, yet it remains speculative whether age-related myelin growth drives the fading of the posterior homeostatic SWA response during the transition to adulthood. Whether chronic insufficient sleep in the sensitive period of early life alters the anatomical generators of deep sleep slow-waves is an important unanswered question.

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The influence of parents, parenting and public policy on childhood cognition

The first part of this interesting new study by researchers from North Carolina State University and California State University, Northridge is not to surprising: they find that the role of parents is more important than far-reaching public policies. Really? Who would have thought. But still: public policies do can make a difference. The study in highlights:

  • Does investment in child cognition vary between the United State and Great Britain?
  • Maternal cognition and children’ home environments are important in both societies.
  • The British welfare state may be important when parental resources are absent or stretched thin.


From the press release (bold by me):

“We looked at the effects of parental characteristics on the cognition of children in the U.S. and Great Britain,” says Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and corresponding author of a paper on the study. “Basically, we wanted to see whether the welfare state in Great Britain gave its children an advantage.

“Our earlier work looked at children’s home environments and behavioral problems across the two countries, and we found that parents were equally important in both places,” Parcel says. “In this study we looked at three things: pre-reading skills and scores of reading and mathematics achievement.”

For this study, the researchers analyzed two sets of data: a representative sample of 3,439 children between the ages of 5 and 13 in the U.S.; and a representative sample of 1,309 children in Great Britain across the same age range.

“We were able to do this study because the two data sets are comparable – same age range, same timeframe and same measures of key variables,” Parcel says.

Overall, the researchers found that parental characteristics were equally important in both countries in supporting stronger child cognition. However, there were some exceptions.

For example, the researchers found that children of single-mother families were at a disadvantage for verbal facility in the U.S., but not in Great Britain. Similarly, they found that a larger family size was associated with lower math scores in the U.S., but not in Great Britain.

“This may indicate that parents have fewer resources per child in larger families, and that the government in Great Britain has instituted policies that help compensate for that – whereas those policies are lacking in the U.S.,” Parcel says. “Those policies could possibly include the child allowances and National Health Service, which may help parents use their own resources to better support child cognition.”

The researchers also identified many ways in which the U.S. and Great Britain are similar. In both countries, low birth weight, health limitations and larger family size were associated with lower verbal facility. Child health limitations were also linked to lower math scores in both countries, and health limitations, male gender and larger family size were all associated with lower reading achievement in both countries. The mother’s cognitive ability and stronger home environments were associated with higher verbal facility, math scores and reading achievement in both countries.

Parents are equally important in both societies, and policies can’t replace good parents,” Parcel says. “But there do appear to be areas where policies can support families and help children succeed.

Abstract of the study:

We compare family and parental effects on child verbal facility, verbal achievement and mathematics achievement in the United States and Great Britain. We study 3,438 5–13 year-old children from the 1994 NLSY Child-Mother Data Set and 1429 same-aged children from the National Child Development Study, also known as the British Child. Multivariate analyses suggest that the processes through which families invest in child cognition are similar across societies, with factors including low birth weight, child health, maternal cognition, family size and children’s home environments being consequential. We conclude that parental investments are equally important across the two societies. The more developed welfare state in Great Britain does not notably compensate for parental investments in that society, although it may play a greater role when parental resources are absent or stretched thin.


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Another element for the discussion: Early childhood spending benefits don’t fade away

It’s a theme I even wrote a report about: the effect of investment in early childhood and the Heckman curve. Heckman himself adapted his theory to the Heckman equation:

The element of “sustain” is important for this new study as some studies have shown that the effects of only investing in early childhood education may fade out in time. Well, if there are effects, because in some countries e.g. the Netherlands the effects weren’t that noticeable. Now there is a new study that shows the benefits of early childhood spending don’t fade away. I do think this new study will not close the debate. The most important questions that remains are: when and why does early childhood education work.

From the press release:

North Carolina’s investment in early child care and education programs resulted in higher test scores, less grade retention and fewer special education placements through fifth grade, research from the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy finds.

The research, published online Nov. 17 in Child Development, looked at more than 1 million North Carolina public school students born between 1988 and 2000. Researchers asked whether the state’s Smart Start and More at Four programs provided long-lasting benefits for children, or if previously seen positive results diminished by the end of elementary school.

The researchers found the programs’ benefits did not fade with time, as in some early childhood intervention programs. Instead, the positive effects grew or held steady over the years.

“The impacts of both Smart Start and More at Four on children persist across the entire elementary school period,” said the study’s lead author Kenneth A. Dodge, founding director of the center, William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke.

Smart Start began in 1993 and expanded to all 100 N.C. counties beginning in the 1998-99 school year, with the goal of ensuring that children enter school healthy and ready to learn. It provides funding to counties for child care, health screenings and other services for all children from birth to age 5. Funding for the program peaked in 2000.

More at Four, now called NC Pre-K, is the state-funded pre-kindergarten program for high-risk 4-year-olds. The program launched in 2001 and had grown to reach about 25 percent of all North Carolina 4-year-olds by 2010. The authors, who also include center colleagues Yu Bai, Helen F. Ladd and Clara Muschkin, found the state’s investment in both programs totaled an average of $2,200 per child during the 13-year study period.

By the end of fifth grade, children living in counties with average levels of Smart Start and More at Four funding saw improved educational outcomes. These results were equivalent to a gain of more than six months of reading instruction and more than three months of math instruction. The children also had significantly higher mean math and reading scores in grades three, four and five.

Both programs also lowered the odds of children needing special education during elementary school. Average Smart Start funding was linked to a nearly 10 percent reduction in special education placements in grades three, four and five.

More at Four, meanwhile, also significantly reduced special education placements. Average More at Four funding reduced the odds of special education placements by 29 percent in third grade, by 43 percent in fourth grade and by 48 percent in fifth grade.

Additionally, both Smart Start and More at Four reduced the probability of students being held back during elementary school. In counties that received an average Smart Start funding allocation, a child’s chance of being retained by fifth grade declined by 13 percent. Average More at Four funding reduced children’s odds of being held back during elementary school by 29 percent.

The findings held regardless of poverty level, suggesting that the programs created an enhanced learning environment for all. One possible explanation for the overall improvement is that teachers did not need to attend to behavior problems or remediation, the researchers said.

Some studies have found the effects of early childhood programs on children’s cognitive and educational development fade out by the end of elementary school. The new study shows no such fadeout for the North Carolina programs. Instead, the impact holds steady or significantly increases through fifth grade.

“Fadeout is not inevitable,” Dodge said. “When you look at what North Carolina is doing, it’s a very high-quality program.”

The new research builds on two previous studies that found the two programs benefitted children in early elementary school, boosting third-grade reading and math-test scores and reducing third-grade special education placements.

The researchers will next look at middle school students to see if the beneficial effects of Smart Start and More at Four continue.

Researchers say the findings show the programs warrant additional government support, and that saturating a community with early childhood programs may be beneficial.

“These programs in North Carolina are having the impact they were intended to have,” Dodge said. “These are investments worth making.”

Abstract of the study:

 North Carolina’s Smart Start and More at Four (MAF) early childhood programs were evaluated through the end of elementary school (age 11) by estimating the impact of state funding allocations to programs in each of 100 counties across 13 consecutive years on outcomes for all children in each county-year group (n = 1,004,571; 49% female; 61% non-Latinx White, 30% African American, 4% Latinx, 5% other). Student-level regression models with county and year fixed effects indicated significant positive impacts of each program on reading and math test scores and reductions in special education and grade retention in each grade. Effect sizes grew or held steady across years. Positive effects held for both high- and low-poverty families, suggesting spillover of effects to nonparticipating peers.

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