At DEL we’re all about those results boss

We (the Department of Early Learning) published an outcomes report on the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (or ECEAP) last week. ECEAP is, despite its horribleness as an acronym, Washington’s pretty well-regarded preschool program. The Seattle Times analysis in the Education Lab part of the paper was pretty good. My favorite quote:

The percentage of children ready for kindergarten after attending Washington’s subsidized preschool program exceeded the state average.” – Seattle Times Education Lab

This is what you want to read in a story about the comprehensive preschool you run. Even better would be “low-income children who attend Washington’s subsidized preschool program are all ready for kindergarten!” We’re pretty close, but have some remaining work to do, and some significant work in some areas.

To be eligible for ECEAP a family has to have an income less than 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL,) be on a school district IEP , have risk-factors related to school success or be involved in the child welfare system. For a family with one parent and two kids, that’s a little more than $22,000 per year. Only about 12% of Washington’s total population is below the poverty line (we are 16th best in the country.) Kids are more likely than all adults to be in poor families though, and 17% of Washington’s kids are below FPL, again the 16th best in the country.

We only serve about a third of the kids that are eligible due to their family’s income, mostly because we don’t have enough slots to do so. The Legislature passed a law about 5 years ago saying that these children are “entitled” to an ECEAP slot by 2020 and started to phase in enough capacity to serve all these kids. In the 2014-15 school year we added 1350 slots. This seems like a lot, but we need to add somewhere between 1,800 and 3,000 slots a year for the next four years (depends on your assumptions about how many kids will sign up) to make the goal.

At DEL we’re all about those results boss, and the results are pretty good:
  • After one year of ECEAP a higher percentage of low-income kids meet the kindergarten readiness expectations than do a sample of all kids, including high income kids. This is remarkable, though we have room to go to meet my goal of 90% all kids completely ready for kindergarten.
  • After two years of ECEAP, almost all of our kids are ready for kindergarten except in math, and we get almost 80% to that bar.

There are some clear policy implications, but also some significant caveats you should have reading these results.

  • First, the kids going to ECEAP are not a perfect sample of low-income kids. This means that you can’t just assume you’ll get the same results if you expand the program to cover more kids. Like all programs that are hard to get in to (there are not enough slots and we usually have waiting lists) the kids with more effective parents are more likely to be in the program. These kids are also more likely to do well in preschool.
  • Second, and something I’m pretty concerned about, our current ECEAP attendees are twice as likely to come from a two-parent family than a typical low-income kid is.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly we think it’s because most of ECEAP classrooms are half-day programs. If you’re a single parent trying to work a half-day program is crazy-making and you don’t even consider it. It’s wicked hard to organize a transition from one program to another at lunchtime if you are working in the service industry, or anywhere else where you don’t control your schedule.

Another pretty significant caveat is that the readiness scores of ECEAP kids are measured in the spring by their classroom teacher. Most kids have some regression during the summer if they are not in some kind of organized program, and only 567 of our 10,000 slots run through the summer. We have some analysis work to do to understand this effect.

Caveats aside, these are great results. They lead us to some obvious conclusions.

  1. We need to focus more on math. This is true in ECEAP as well as across the board for all kids. We have some fun ideas and you’ll hear more about these from us as the next couple of months unfold.
  2. Two years of preschool is better than one, and is probably necessary to get many of the kids we’re concerned about on a trajectory that will work for them.
  3. We’ll need to be mostly full-day and extended day if we want to be functional for a typical low-income family with working parents.

You’ll see more analysis of the assessment done on all entering kindergartners that will show comparable data, including the summer fade-out.


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