Theses Doctoral

A three-paper investigation of Head Start Participants’ Outcomes in Executive Functions, Reading and Math at Kindergarten Entrance and Through the Transition to School (K-2)

Chatfield, Karen

Three questions are explored in this dissertation. The first is whether the executive functions of Head Start participants are improved in comparison to those of children who did not attend center-based care before attending kindergarten. By matching and comparing the outcomes of a nationally representative cohort of kindergarten children (ECLS-K:2011) grouped by the type of childcare they received in the year preceding school entry, I find that Head Start participants exhibit slightly higher cognitive flexibility scores (as well as reading and math outcomes) in comparison to highly similar children who did not experience center-based care before starting school. Children who participated in Head Start demonstrate working memory skills that are not significantly different from those of closely-matched children who experienced no center-based care, but their skills in this area are slightly weaker than those of similar children who attended school-based public pre-k or other center-based care. The second question is how math content level during kindergarten affects children with different early care experiences, with focus on Head Start participants. The use of piece-wise linear growth curves to analyze children’s development in working memory, cognitive flexibility, reading and math reveals that advanced math content in kindergarten does have a positive relationship with math and reading achievement for Head Start participants, but these students do not gain as much on average from this instructional approach as more advantaged groups do. More basic math content, such as counting has a negative association with growth in math for more advantaged groups of children. Finally, any increases in kindergarten growth rates resulting from math content do not appear to persist through first and second grades. The third question asks whether there are significant differences in the trajectories of Head Start participants according to parent nativity. In analysis using piece-wise linear growth curve models to analyze Head Start (HS) participants’ development in working memory, cognitive flexibility, reading and math, results indicate that HS participants with immigrant parents exhibit an additional surge in EF development in the period between the spring of kindergarten and the spring of second grade, later than the average kindergarten increase for all HS participants. Additionally, HS participants with immigrant parents exhibit slightly higher average growth rates in reading during kindergarten when compared to HS participants with non-immigrant parents.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Waldfogel, Jane
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 30, 2019