By Dr Sarah Alexander
This article provides a written anthology - references and a summary of written reports and papers that throw light on what effects participation in early education (childcare) has on student subsequent academic performance at school.
Unfortunately for those who claim without looking at the evidence that early childhood education substantially or on its own raises achievement levels this does not appear to be the case as reflected in student actual performance on a range of tests. The main ones reviewed here are International PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS Results and Australia’s NAPLAN.
Reference 1: PISA 2009 Results
Quoting directly from this report:
- In all 34 OECD countries, students who attended pre-primary education for more than one year outperformed students who did not. This finding remains unchanged after socio-economic background is accounted for. On average across OECD countries, the advantage before accounting for socio-economic factors stands at more than 54 score points, and after at 33 score points. In general, this reduction signals that attendance in pre-primary education for more than one year and socio-economic characteristics are somewhat related, yet there is still a strong independent relationship between attending primary school and performance at age 15.
- Part of the variation in the strength of the relationship between pre-primary attendance and the socio-economic background of students may be due to the fact that many other factors apart from pre-primary attendance (e.g. education in and out of school that students received between the ages of six and 15) may influence the performance of 15-year-olds. The estimates provided here are limited because they cannot take many of these issues into account.
- The relationship between performance and ECE attendance varies across countries and one hypothesis for this is differences in the quality of ECE.
Reference 2: Education Indicators in Focus. OECD report
- Go to: http://www.oecd.org/edu/EDIF11.pdf
- Quoting directly from this report:
- PISA results show that participation in ECE is strongly associated with reading performance at age 15, even after accounting for students’ socio-economic backgrounds.
- PISA results also suggest that the relationship between ECE participation and later learning outcomes is the strongest in countries with certain “quality” features. The indicative quality indicators include child-staff ratio, the duration of programmes and public spending per child (OECD, 2010).
Reference 3: Achievement Results for IEA’s 2011 – TIMSS and PIRLS
- TIMSS and PIRLS 2011 report achievement at four international benchmarks. These describe what students know and can do in mathematics, science and reading.
- The main factors for achievement at 4th Grade include parents who engage their children in early numeracy and literacy activities, children’s own ability to do early numeracy and reading tasks upon starting primary school, attending early childhood education, having home resources for learning including well-educated parents and many books and reading materials in the home, supportive home and school environments, experienced and satisfied teachers at school, and positive student attitudes.
- NZ has a much higher rate of enrolment of 4 year-old children in ECE than the Russian Federation, Korea and Finland; however these countries outranked NZ in the international tests of student achievement in 4th Grade.
- Mathematics at 4th Grade – top performing countries were Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Japan.
- Science at 4th Grade – top performing countries were Korea, Singapore, Finland, Japan and the Russian Federation.
- Reading at 4th Grade – top performing countries were Hong Kong, the Russian Federation, Finland, and Singapore.
Reference 4: Chamberlain, M. (2013). PIRLS 2010/11 in NZ
- Year 5 students had generally spent in the range of 10 to 19 hours in ECE in the year immediately before they had started school. Parents/caregivers of Asian (55%), Māori (52%), and Pasifika (46%) students were more likely than parents/caregivers of Pākehā/European children (30%) to report that their children were in ECE for at least 20 hours. (This would suggest that an increase in time spent in ECE may be negative to children's achievement? Though Asian children tend to have higher academic achievement and more time spent in ECE)
- Students who had participated in ECE for less than 20 hours scored on average higher (560) than the group who had participated for more than 20 hours (540), with the 20 scale score point difference statistically significant (t = 4.85). (p. 80)
- There were no significant changes in the reading scores of Year 5 students over the period 2001 to 2010/11. Yet the percentages of the (PIRLS) Year 5 students for all ethnic groups except for Pasifika students who had been reported to have attended ECE increased over this period and the percentage of students who had attended ECE for more than 2 years increased from 41% to 67%
Reference 5: Blaiklock, K. (2013) paper
Quoting directly from this critique:
- There are some interesting findings in the more detailed information about the PIRLS and TIMMS that has recently become available. (The PIRLS results for Year 5 reading are sourced from Chamberlain, 2013, and Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012. The TIMMS results for Year 5 science and mathematics are unpublished analyses using TIMMS Data. Data available from the Comparative Education Research Unit, Ministry of Education, December, 2013)
- Information on the relationship between ECE attendance and Year 5 school achievement after taking account of differences in socioeconomic status (SES) of students is reported below.
- Year 5 Reading.
- Low SES Students who had attended ECE for 1-2 years scored higher than a combined group of students who had no ECE or up to 1 year of ECE. No difference in reading scores was found between students who attended ECE for 1-2 years, and students who attended for longer than 2 years.
- Medium SES. There was no statistical difference in the Year 5 reading scores between a combined group of children who had not attended ECE or had attended for up to 1 year, and students who had attended for longer.
- High SES. There was a small statistical difference in favour of students who had attended ECE for 1-2 years compared to the combined group of students who had no ECE or had attended for less than 1 year. However, students who had attended for more than 2 years showed no significant difference in average reading scores in comparison to students who had not attended or who had attended for up to 1 year.
- Year 5 Mathematics
- Low SES. No differences in Year 5 mathematics scores were found between the combined group of students who had no ECE or had attended for less than 1 year, and students who had attended for more than 1 or 2 years.
- Medium SES. There was an advantage for students who had 1-2 years of ECE compared to the group of students who had no ECE or less than 1 year. No difference was seen between the mathematics scores of students who had 1-2 years ECE, and students who attended for more than 2 years.
- High SES. Insufficient data was available to calculate comparisons for the combined group of students who had no ECE or had attended up to 1 year. There was no difference between the scores of students who had attended ECE for 1-2 years compared to students who had attended for more than 2 years.
- Year 5 Science.
- Low SES. No significant differences in Year 5 science scores were seen between the combined group of students who had no ECE or less than 1 year, and students who had more than 1 or 2 years ECE.
- Medium SES. Students who had 1-2 years ECE scored significantly higher than the combined group of students who had no ECE or up to 1 year. There was no difference in the Year 5 science scores between children who had attended ECE for 1-2 years, and children who had attended for more than 2 years.
- High SES. Insufficient data meant that comparisons could not be calculated for the combined group of students who had no ECE or who had attended for less than 1-2 years. There was no difference between the science scores for students who had attended 1-2 years, and students who had attended for more than 2 years.
- For both the Low SES and the High SES children, attendance at ECE for 1-2 years was associated with higher reading scores at Year 5 compared to the combined group of students who had no attendance or less than 1 year. But for the middle 50% of children, there was no link between attendance at ECE and Year 5 reading achievement. For mathematics and science, medium SES students who had attended 1-2 years of ECE scored higher than students who had no ECE or less than 1 year. However, there was no association between attendance at ECE and Year 5 achievement in mathematics and science for the low SES students.
- There are limitations to this data because it does not show the quality of ECE that a child may have experienced, nor does it take account of how many hours a week a child attended.
- The overall pattern of results indicates there is room for considerable improvement in our ECE system if we are to ensure that involvement in early education is linked with later success in school learning. The most common finding in the above analyses (after taking account of SES) was of no association between duration of ECE attendance and later achievement. Where there were positive associations, we need to ensure that the increase in achievement linked with early education is not just statistically significant but is substantial enough to make a real difference to children’s later educational outcomes. (p.12).
Reference 6: Warren and Haisken-DeNew (2013) on causal impact of ECE participation on children’s achievement
- The study involved a detailed analysis of the NAPLAN results of 2229 year 3 school students against their early childhood education experience as recorded by a federal government long-term study of Australian children.
- NAPLAN stands for the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy. Every year, students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in all Australian schools are assessed using common national tests in of numeracy, reading, writing and language (including spelling, grammar and punctuation).
- Australian children whose ECE teachers held an ECE diploma or degree qualification performed better in numeracy, reading and spelling in Year 3 than children whose ECE teachers held only a certificate or no relevant childcare qualification. The results of children whose ECE teachers held lower level or no relevant ECE qualification were "indistinguishably similar" to children who did not attend ECE in the year prior to starting school.
- In other words if ECE is to make a difference to children’s school achievement as measured at Year 3, then children need to be taught by ECE diploma or degree qualified teachers when attending ECE
- Other explanatory variables included:
- Children’s gender. On average, boys score higher than girls in Numeracy; while girls score higher than boys in Writing, Spelling, and Grammar.
- Culture: Children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background have substantially lower scores for Spelling, Grammar and Numeracy.
- Children’s language: Compared to children who do not speak a language other than English at home, children who speak a second language have significantly higher Spelling scores.
- Birth weight: On average, children who weighed less than 2.5kg at birth scored lower in Reading, Grammar and Numeracy than children who weighed 2.5 kg or more.
- Child age in Year 3: The age of the child is also a significant factor, with average test scores increasing by 2 to 3 points for each additional month.
- Family position: Compared to children who were the eldest or only child in the household, those who had an older resident sibling in the year prior to their first year of school had lower average test scores in Reading, Spelling and Grammar. Children who had younger resident siblings in the year before formal schooling had significantly higher scores for Grammar.
- Household income: There was a small but significant effect of household income, with average test scores increasing by approximately 1 point with every $100 of weekly income.
- Mother’s education: Across all five domains children whose mother had a degree had significantly higher test scores. Compared to children whose mother’s highest level of education was Year 11 or below, average test scores of children whose mother had a degree-level qualification were 33 points higher for Numeracy, 41 points higher for Reading, 22 points higher for Spelling, 30 points higher for Writing and 36 points higher for Grammar. There are several explanations for the mother’s strong influence. First, children whose parents have a higher level of education may have a higher level of innate ability, resulting in higher test scores. Second, children whose parents have a higher level of education may provide a better home learning environment for their children. Third, children whose parents have a higher level of education may place a higher value on their children’s education and therefore choose to provide better educational opportunities for their children, including higher quality pre-school.
In Conclusion … Shulruf (2010) paper
Direct quotes (from p. 176)
It is not disputed that high-quality, non-parental early childhood education is beneficial for children and families … the question is whether … non-parental ECE programmes alone are the best solutions for all families and all children, irrespective of age, culture and circumstance.
[Other] approaches to support children and families include, but are not limited to the following: home-visiting, family centres and parent education, family communication programs, and parent support initiatives. Improving the within-home environment, particularly for disadvantaged children, provides a safe, stimulating, and supportive environment for the child that facilitates learning through experience. Through change in family culture benefits to the child extend to siblings and other members of the family.
An integrated approach enhances any investment in non-parental early childhood educational services making learning more effective and the positive academic and social outcomes more sustainable, extensive, and less individualistic. The embedded benefits of such interventions will extend beyond the young child and siblings to family, community, and ultimately to the nation.