Does early childhood education climate matter? The relationship between state policy, school readiness, and enrollment in organized care

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Baumgartner, Erin Marie
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 17, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Michelle Lynn Frisco, Dissertation Advisor
  • Valarie Elizabeth King, Committee Member
  • Emily Kate Greenman, Committee Member
  • Katerina Bodovski, Committee Member
  • school readiness
  • early childhood
  • sociology
  • stratification
  • race
  • education policy
  • education
In an era of increased emphasis on student assessment and achievement, scholars, educators, and administrators continue to look to school readiness, or students’ preparedness to begin formal schooling, as the key for improving student performance and decreasing educational disparities among children. This dissertation focuses on examining student readiness for school and the early childhood educational contexts that may foster greater levels of readiness among students at kindergarten entry. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Cohorts of 1998-1999 and 2010-2011, I begin by estimating change in readiness between two nationally-representative cohorts of kindergarten students to assess whether students who are enrolled in kindergarten in 2010-2011 are more ready for school than students enrolled in kindergarten in 1998-1999. I focus this analysis on examining the between sociodemographic group differences in readiness for each cohort and observe whether all or some groups are making progress in decreasing gaps in readiness. Specifically, I examine between group differences by race/ethnicity, student gender, maternal education, family structure, and household income, finding that school readiness disparities are converging for some racial/ethnic groups and some family structure types. But unfortunately, the convergence in trends between most groups was not fast enough to eliminate disparities by 2010-2011. For most groups, including across measures of socioeconomic status, the disparities between groups has remained constant over time. In the second part of the analysis, I examine the relationship between the educational climate created by state-level early childhood policy and two of the primary goals of early childhood policy: to increase student participation in early learning opportunities and to increase student’s readiness for school. With regards to greater odds of student enrollment in organized care, living in a state with greater per pupil spending is not associated with increased odds of enrolling in care. However, living in a state that offers unrestricted or restricted access to state-funded pre-k is associated with higher odds of enrollment than living in state that offers no access to pre-k, net of confounders. Analyses in this chapter also suggest that the relationship between living in a state that offers access to state-funded pre-k and organized care enrollment may be different for students from different racial or ethnic groups. When examining the relationship between early educational climate, as measured by state policy, and student readiness for school, this study finds that living in a state where quality requirements of state-funded pre-k programs are high and a greater proportion of four-year-old students in the state are enrolled in state-funded pre-k are positively associated with math and verbal readiness, as students in states that have a high number of quality requirements (7+) and a greater proportion of students served by state-funded pre-k programs have higher cognitive readiness scores. But students in states where more per pupil funding is needed to reach the benchmarks of a high quality program have lower math and verbal readiness scores than their peers in states where no funding or less funding is needed. Again, these results vary between racial/ethnic groups, with some students benefiting more from these state-level policies than others.