Early Childhood Projects
Early Childhood Policy Research
Mathematica evaluates initiatives designed to improve the well-being of young children and their families, particularly those at greatest risk in our society. The projects reviewed here illustrate the diversity of themes we address, the range of clients we serve, and the breadth of our early childhood and family research.
Since its inception more than four decades ago, Head Start has been the nation’s premier federally funded early childhood intervention and it has served as a laboratory for a range of research activities. Starting in 1995, the Early Head Start program extended the Head Start concept to pregnant women and low-income families with infants and toddlers. Mathematica has been at the forefront in helping researchers and policy makers understand how these programs operate, and how they can better serve parents and children. In collaboration with the Early Head Start Research Consortium, Mathematica served as the national evaluator for the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project, which included a random assignment impact study and a comprehensive implementation study in 17 sites. This ongoing study focused on family functioning and children’s development during the first three years of life, during the year before preschool, and has followed the children in fifth grade. The Survey of Early Head Start programs yielded comprehensive information on families served, program services, and management practices in a nationally representative set of programs. In 2007, Mathematica began the Early Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (Baby FACES) which is collecting comprehensive, longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of 90 Early Head Start programs and the families they serve.
The Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) remains Head Start’s ongoing, longitudinal performance measures research initiative. Mathematica's five-year FACES 2006 study is tracking a nationally representative cohort of 3,500 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in 60 Head Start programs around the country from program entry through kindergarten follow-up. Mathematica is continuing this work with FACES 2009, which will follow a new national cohort of Head Start children, measuring the individual, family, and programmatic factors that contribute to school readiness.
Helping understand the effectiveness of Head Start and Early Head Start enhancements is an important component of this work. To further the overall research agenda of Head Start, we developed a set of Head Start design options to help identify promising quality enhancement strategies for programs. We have evaluated the oral health initiative that was launched in Head Start, Early Head Start, and Migrant/Seasonal Head Start. Mathematica also served as the evaluator of a Head Start initiative to reduce the risk of childhood obesity. To help Head Start better understand a new training and technical assistance approach, Mathematica conducted a quality assurance study to document and assess national, regional, and local program activities. We also developed a toolkit to help programs better collect, interpret, and use child assessment information to improve classroom practice.
States and communities are increasingly investing in preschool education in a variety of settings, including schools, community-based centers, Head Start programs, and family child care homes. Assessing the readiness of children from these programs to succeed in school has become an increasingly important concern. Our Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research project for the Department of Education studied the impacts of several important preschool curricula on a range of indicators of children’s school readiness. Our Early Reading First evaluation assessed the effects on children’s school readiness of significant grant funding to strengthen language development and early literacy program components. Our study of early childhood education in Chicago examined the various paths to school readiness provided by Head Start and state prekindergarten in full- and part-day programs.
In 1990, we published the groundbreaking national survey of early care and education settings. For the Early Head Start evaluation, we developed the Child-Caregiver Observation System (C-COS), which enables researchers to document the quality of interactions between caregivers and children. We used this measure in a study to examine the role of Early Head Start programs in addressing the child care needs of children and families. We evaluated the Early Head Start Enhanced Home Visiting pilot project, an initiative to improve the quality of care provided by caregivers of Early Head Start children. For the Child Care Bureau, we are exploring strategies to improve the quality of care provided by home-based child care providers who serve children from low-income families—including licensed family child care providers and family, friend, and neighbor caregivers. Finally, Mathematica is participating in a study of Quality Rating Systems (QRS) to help states better understand policy consequences of QRS implementation.
For a formative evaluation of a new nurse home visiting program as well as for the Baby FACES study, we are using new home-visit observation tools for assessing the content and quality of the visits provided to parents and young children. For the Children’s Bureau, we are conducting a participatory and utilization-focused cross-site evaluation by identifying successful strategies for adopting, implementing, and sustaining evidence-based home visiting programs to prevent child maltreatment.
Early childhood education programs seek new strategies to improve children’s learning and development. Yet, until recently, little research rigorously assessed the effects of preschool practices on children’s development. Mathematica is reviewing research and summarizing findings from high-quality, scientifically based research that can inform practitioners about the effectiveness of practices and interventions in early education. The What Works Clearinghouse—Early Childhood topic area provides information about the effects of preschool curricula and practices delivered in center-based settings and designed to improve cognitive outcomes. The Head Start Research to Practice project examines practices evaluated in Head Start programs and designed to improve child outcomes in multiple domains.
Early care and education programs are increasingly serving children who come from a variety of language and cultural backgrounds, and research methods must be inclusive. Mathematica met this challenge in the design for a study of universal preschool in Los Angeles, where we piloted different child assessments and social-emotional measures to determine those most appropriate for the diverse population served. Going beyond the measures available, Mathematica developed the Language Interaction Snapshot (LISn) to document the types of language children hear and the interactions between individual children and caregivers in the classroom. We are working with the Administration for Children and Families to plan and develop a report for Congress on the status of dual language learners in Head Start and Early Head Start. Our international early childhood work includes an evaluation of preschool in Chile and a study of investments in early childhood and youth programs in Ireland and Northern Ireland.