A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Education Reforms and Students at Risk: A Review of the Current State of the Art - January 1994

Early Prevention

A view that prevailed during the 1960s, that early intervention programs targeting very young children provided the most cost-effective compensatory education for disadvantaged youth, enjoyed a comeback in the 1980s as educators and policymakers supported programs designed to ensure that students enter and progress through school "ready to learn." There may be a tendency to overemphasize the advantages of early intervention (Woodhead, 1988; Natriello, McDill, & Pallas, 1990). However, early childhood programs can help provide a firmer foundation for later school success. Slavin, Karweit, and Wasik (1991) explore the effects of the most widely known intervention programs. Below we examine one preschool, one kindergarten, and one elementary school program.

Preschool. Preschool and kindergarten environments that are developmentally appropriate and provide learning experiences that develop the children's language and symbolic competencies can help poor children enter school at the same level as their more advantaged peers. Head Start, created in 1965, was the first national program for preschoolers and today remains one of the most well-known and politically popular. Since 1965, Head Start has served a total of 12.5 million children; in 1991, the program received nearly $2 billion to operate approximately 1,350 projects serving more than one-half million children nationwide (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1992). Head Start provides participating youngsters with a diverse array of academic and social services.

The effectiveness of Head Start has been a somewhat controversial issue. In 1985, CSR, Inc., carried out a review/meta-analysis that synthesized over 200 separate evaluations of the program conducted over a 20-year period. They concluded that Head Start does show some statistically significant effects on students' cognitive and socioemotional development. However, the study reported a frequent "fade-out" effect, whereby students' cognitive and affective gains disappeared by the end of the first year of regular school (McKey et al., 1985). The national Head Start office reports that another comprehensive evaluation of the Head Start program will be conducted in the coming year.

Kindergarten. Approximately 98 percent of children attend some form of kindergarten. Researchers have studied both the organizational and curricular features of kindergarten programs to determine their effects on cognitive and affective outcomes in young children. Karweit's syntheses of the research literature in this area show modest evidence that full-day programs are more effective than half-day programs, but they show little evidence that extra- year kindergarten programs provide extra benefits to children, at-risk or otherwise (Karweit, 1987; Slavin, Karweit, and Madden, 1989; Karweit and Wasik, 1992). Karweit (1992a) argues that more lasting effects on children do not come from adding time to the child's kindergarten experience, but rather are brought about by children's participation in learning environments that are both individually and developmentally appropriate and that develop the child's language competencies and understanding of the functions of written and print materials.

Karweit (1989) examined 21 validated kindergarten programs, 7 of which are still active -- KITE, TALK, CLIMB, STAMM, Early Prevention of School Failure, KINDERMATH, and the Kenosha Model (in Slavin, Karweit, and Madden, 1989). In a forthcoming article, Karweit (1992a) describes five programs -- KITE, Early Prevention of School Failure, Books and Beyond, Writing to Read, and STaR. Of these, KITE (Kindergarten Integrated Thematic Experiences) demonstrates the largest effects on students' reading and mathematics performance. KITE incorporates two well-evaluated programs, Astra's Magic Math and Alphaphonics, to provide students with a kindergarten day integrated around a theme that emphasizes language and cognitive, physical, and socioemotional development. An evaluation that involved random assignment of students to KITE and follow-ups of their performance through the third grade showed significant and large effect sizes. In comparison to the control group, KITE students gained approximately 25 Normal Curve Equivalents (NCEs) to the control group's 6 (Slavin, Karweit and Wasik, in press).

Success for All. Approaches in the elementary grades that deliver extra-intensive academic help to students when they most need it have been found to have substantial positive effects on students' mastering of reading and comprehension abilities (DeFord et al., 1987; Madden et al., 1991). Success for All is an elementary school restructuring program that takes advantage of the new option to use Chapter 1 funds for schoolwide projects. The goal of the project is to do everything necessary to ensure that all students will perform at grade level especially in reading, but also in writing and mathematics by the end of third grade. Strategies used in the program include one-on-one tutoring, regrouping for reading, a family- support team, frequent assessments of learning with immediate help on problems, and individual academic plans for each student. The program primarily serves high-minority, low-income student populations and currently is being implemented in 31 schools in 12 states.

In the first year evaluation of Success for All, participating children outscored a matched control group on multiple measures of reading readiness and reading comprehension. Reading gains were especially large for students in the lowest 25 percent, as determined by pretest scores (Slavin et al., 1989). In the most recent program evaluation, Madden et al. (1993) report sustained gains in reading and substantial reductions in student retention and absenteeism. While not all Success for All students were reading at grade level by third grade, only 15.7 percent Success for All third graders (including all students who would ordinarily be assigned to special education) were still performing at least 1 year below grade level, compared to 38 percent of third graders in control schools. Only 3.9 percent were 2 years behind in Success for All schools, compared to 11.7 percent in control schools. The results of Success for All are promising. As is the case with all early childhood programs, however, follow-up studies that show how participating children fare in later school experiences are needed to determine whether such programs provide the "booster" shot needed to protect students against future school failure.

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