Creating More Promising Preschool Programs: Implications of preschool quality and fade-out/catch-up

Featuring Margaret R. Burchinal, Research Professor, School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia

Long-term results from the randomized controlled trial of the Tennessee prekindergarten and increased evidence of fade-out/catch-up of preschool impacts during the early elementary years should lead to a careful examination of what works for whom in early care and education (ECE).

A growing body of research, including studies Burchinal led, suggests that we need to rethink how we define quality in terms of what types of classroom experiences may be good (or bad) for young children and what skills should be the focus of ECE instruction. Recent findings from the UNC Early Learning Network (funded by the Institute for Education Sciences) site suggest that different types of classroom experiences promote different child outcomes and that large group settings were the strongest (negative) predictor of gains in skills during pre-kindergarten.

Our next study indicated complete catch up for literacy skills and partial catch up for language and math skills in kindergarten, with the emergence of some evidence of higher EF skills for pre-K attenders, and provided evidence for Bailey’s trifecta hypothesis but not sustained environments either in quality or instructional content to explain catch up. Recent findings from the UVA site provided some evidence that peer effects from having more pre-K attenders in the classroom was related to larger gains in language skills but smaller gains in frustration tolerance. These studies are discussed in the context of ECE literature to suggest that our current model that focuses on promoting early literacy and math skills typically through large group didactic instruction is not effective and maybe harmful for young children, whereas models that focus on guided or scaffolded play may be both more effective and better for young children.

Margaret R. Burchinal is a research professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Her research examines the role early childhood education plays in children’s learning and development. She served as the lead statistician for landmark early education studies, including the Abecedarian Project, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child and Youth Development, and the Family Life Project and evaluations of major early childhood policy initiatives.

She has authored or co-authored over 150 peer-reviewed articles, served on review panels for the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Institute of Education Sciences, and NICHD, as an associate editor for Child Development and Early Childhood Research Quarterly, and a board member for the William T. Grant Foundation and the American Educational Research Association’s Research Board. Previously she served on the National Research Council Committee on Developmental Outcomes and Assessment for Young Children, Early Care and Education Workshop, and Leading Educational Indicators Workshop.

Dr. Burchinal holds a Ph.D. in Quantitative Psychology from the University of North Carolina.

The Early Childhood Initiative (ECI), established by the Center for Child and Family Policy, seeks to bring together scholars to address these challenges and produce world-class scholarship that helps maximize the potential of all children during the early childhood years. ECI Seminar Series speakers range across disciplines but share an interest in bringing cutting-edge science to bear on policies affecting young children.