Examining the Preschool Experience: Issues of Access, Process, and Accountability

Galdo, Eva, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Bassok, Daphna, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines issues related to access and quality among early childhood education (ECE) providers. The first manuscript examines the effects of an early childhood accountability system aimed at improving preschool quality within the context of Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program. Using a regression discontinuity design we find that in the first years of the program, providers labeled low-performing experience decreases in enrollment and improvements in subsequent ratings. However, we find no evidence that the low-performing label leads programs to stop providing VPK services. Further, the impacts on enrollment and quality ratings are not present (and sometimes reversed) by the later years. The study, which provides one of the first quasi-experimental investigations of an early childhood accountability system, provides mixed results. Implications for states developing accountability systems are discussed. The second manuscript in this dissertation explores variability in the academic and playful nature of preschool classrooms. Utilizing a nationally-representative sample, this study, which is the first to use a nationally representative sample to describe the academic and pedagogical focus of preschool classrooms, finds that most children experience classrooms characterized by both academic and playful experiences. Teachers in classrooms with the highest levels of academic instruction also devote substantial portions of the day to playful activities and child-selected activities. The study suggests that rather than an “either/or” approach to academic and play content, many classrooms were characterized by “both.” The final study of this dissertation describes disparities in access to high-quality teaching within the context of a highly regulated state preschool program. We show that, in Georgia, there are meaningful differences in preschool quality across communities. Poor and high-minority communities offer preschool programs that are rated significantly lower on a widely-used and validated measure of classroom process quality. Collectively, these three studies contribute to our knowledge of preschool learning environments today and provide important implications for policies which are intended to improve the quality of early childhood education.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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