Assessing the Evaluations of Early Childhood Education Programs

Chapter 2 - The Abecedarian Project
Introduction to the Original Evaluation (Excerpt)

The Abecedarian Project, operating between 1972 and 1985, was an intensive, center based program that began working with children in infancy and continued through preschool (and the early school years for some children). It was designed to "test the hypothesis that providing socially disadvantaged children with an intellectually stimulating environment from early infancy could prevent the development of mild mental retardation.

Craig Ramey and his colleagues at the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (the "UNC team") conducted a random assignment evaluation of the program between 1972 and 1977, with follow-ups through age twenty-one. They concluded that the program successfully achieved positive and lasting gains on a wide range of cognitive and school-related outcomes. These gains, however, appear to have been concentrated among the subgroup of children whose mothers had IQs below 70 at the time of entry into the study, and some faded over time. Moreover, these early gains did not lead to many improved outcomes in adulthood (when the children were age twenty-one), with, for example, no statistically significant increases in employment or reductions in criminal activity. Although the project was evaluated using random assignment, the post-random assignment refusal to participate in the evaluation of over 10 percent of families assigned to the program group raises the possibility of selection bias. In addition, the fact that the project was composed mainly of low-income, black children (at "high risk" of intellectual or academic failure) in an otherwise affluent area and the absence of successful replications raise questions about the generalizability of the findings

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