Saturday, September 14, 2002
Home-Based Preschool Helps Disadvantaged Kids Later NEWSWISE/Life News - September 13, 2002 An in-home program for disadvantaged toddlers can help children be better prepared to learn once they start grade school, new research reveals
An article in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology documents how a replication of the Parent-Child Home Program helped to eliminate developmental obstacles faced by a group of children in a semi-rural school district in South Carolina. PCHP is a well-established program currently running at 130 sites worldwide.
"Given the mixed reports of the effectiveness of home-based preschool programs, and the perennial limits of resources, it is vital to understand which interventions do work," says lead author Phyllis Levenstein, Ed.D., of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "The school readiness of former PCHP toddlers when they reach first grade confirms that the PCHP is such a program, with its practicability underlined by its low cost (about $2,000 per child per year) and by the almost universal acceptance by its participants."
The fact that poverty puts children at an educational disadvantage has been confirmed repeatedly over the last few decades, says Levenstein. While many approaches have tried to put disadvantaged children on equal footing with other children, their success has generally been limited. Levenstein notes that the intervention used in her team's research stands out as "a feasible social program which normalized performance on a standardized education test and eliminated the excess risk of inadequate school readiness."
In Levenstein's study, 84 toddlers were identified as having a high risk for inadequate school readiness due to low family income, African-American ethnicity or both. Each child began a two-year series of twice-weekly, friendly and informal in-home visits starting at age 2.
At every session, the visitor used a weekly gift -- either a toy or book -- to show the child's parent how to combine conversation and other positive parenting skills with play.
The South Carolina Program was distinctive because it ran 30 weeks each year, instead of the usual 23 weeks.. Participating families therefore received almost 25 percent more home sessions than a standard PCHP program provides.
The benefit of the home sessions became apparent when the children entered first grade and took required tests measuring their readiness to learn. Their scores showed that the program "greatly lowered the excess risk of inadequate school readiness associated with being African-American and with having a low income," Levenstein reports.
Pass rates on the test are 25 percent higher than statewide rates for low-income children and 23 percent higher for African-American children previously exposed to PCHP, the researchers found. In addition, the overall percentage of PCHP participants who achieve a passing score is higher than the statewide percentage of children -- both disadvantaged and not -- who pass.
The test results also indicate that, among the at-risk children within the school district examined, those who receive the home visits stand a better chance of being prepared to start grade school than those not receiving the visits do.
These findings are particularly striking, Levenstein observes, because the school district where the study took place had limited resources. As a result, only those families with children at the highest level of risk for poor academic preparedness were offered home visits.
Levenstein gives credit for the success to several factors, including PCHP's inherent strengths and a high degree of cooperation from the families. Every family invited to participate in the program accepted the offer. Almost 97 percent stayed in it for one year and 83 percent stayed in it for the full two years. The extra visits provided each year might also have contributed, Levenstein notes.
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