Assessing the Evaluations of Early Childhood Education Programs

Chapter 3 - Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC)
Introduction to the Original Evaluation (Excerpt)

The Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC) program, started in 1967 and currently operating, provides a school-based preschool and early school-age intervention for low-income children ages three to nine in selected Chicago public schools. The main objectives of the program are to promote academic success by providing a "school-stable" learning environment during the preschool and primary-grade years and to actively involve parents in their children's education. At the time of the evaluation, it offered comprehensive education and family support services.

Arthur Reynolds, currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his colleagues (the "Chicago team") conducted the major evaluation of the Chicago Child-Parent Center program, using a nonexperimental design to compare children in 1986 who had graduated from a CPC kindergarten to children who graduated from a non-CPC kindergarten. They report that the CPC program improved a wide range of school performance outcomes and reduced criminal activity. According to the Chicago team, the CPC program resulted in improvements in reading and math achievement test scores during adolescence, fewer special education placements, less grade retention, increased high school completion, and fewer juvenile arrests. These are among the largest and broadest positive impacts of all early childhood intervention programs. But a careful review of the study suggests that a more cautious view is warranted. Thomas Cook and Vivian Wong, professors at Northwestern University, write that the CPC evaluation "depends on an opaque matching procedure and on data analyses (Heckman-type selection models and propensity scores) that have routinely failed to recreate similar effect sizes to an experiment on the same topic. This implies the possibility of a selection confound not fully controlled." In addition, high levels of missing data, the absence of a true randomized experiment, and various self-selection biases raise considerable uncertainty about the findings.

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