Early childhood education, such as Louisiana’s LA4 program, can lower the chances that students will be held back or placed in special education while increasing the chances that they will stay in school or attend college, two experts said Wednesday.
Craig Ramey, a professor and scholar at Virginia Tech’s Carilion Research Institute and the chief science officer for LA4, and his colleague, Frances Campbell, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Grahm Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, spoke as part of the Academic Distinction Fund’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
The Cecil J. Picard LA4 Early Childhood Program, established in 2001, is offered in nearly all school districts and several independent public charter schools. Four-year-olds who qualify for free lunch or reduced-price lunch are eligible to attend the program, although children from families with higher incomes are also eligible, using local funds or tuition.
“LA4 has consistently produced both short-term large effects and lasting benefits (at least through 4th grade)”, for successive classes, Ramey said. “LA4 is a beacon in this country.”
Students who participate in LA4 consistently score higher than the state average on state assessments in the third grade, Ramey said.
“It’s a bigger effect than I expected,” he said.
Ramey said that to continue to improve the program’s performance, administrators must jettison a “one-size fits all” approach and tailor the program based on local programs and resource availability.
He also cited public reporting of student progress and program development as a key to help administrators and parents evaluate the program’s worth.
Campbell said that intervention even earlier than 4 years old was key.
“You cannot do as well if you wait until they are 5,” she told the audience. “Supporting early brain growth is very important.”
Ramey was a founder and Campbell one of the lead researchers on the Abecedarian project, a 30-year study that tracked the impact of early childhood education on a group of about 100 at-risk students in North Carolina.
During the Abecedarian Project, the children started as infants and went to the center every day for the full days yearround, Campbell said.
Students from the program had better test scores, were less likely to be held back and were less likely to report symptoms of depression, she said.
They consistently tested higher in reading and math through age 21 than their counterparts in the control group, Campbell said.
Campbell encouraged ADF members to persuade local business leaders that an investment in early childhood interventions provides significant returns.
The next ADF session will be June 26, and will feature University of California researcher Dr. Greg Duncan presenting a talk, “Impact of Poverty on Academic Achievement.”