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Changes in academic instructional experiences in Head Start classrooms from 2001–2015

As funding and support for early childhood education (ECE) increases, so too have questions about how to best structure ECE classrooms to support our nation’s youngest learners. There has been an ongoing debate as to whether children are best served in classrooms that focus on the development of specific academic skills or in classrooms that spend more time in child-directed play. This issue is of particular concern for publicly funded settings, as evidenced by recent Head Start reauthorizations which have prioritized the promotion of school readiness skills. This study uses five waves of nationally representative Head Start data to inform this debate by providing descriptive evidence about children’s experiences in Head Start classrooms from 2001 to 2015 across two key areas: Time spent on academic content and classroom instructional format. We find that the amount of time children spend on language and literacy content has increased, though time spent on mathematics lags behind. Children in full-day classrooms are also increasingly exposed to more teacher-directed instruction. Future work should consider how to continue to promote academic content while continuing to provide children the opportunity to direct their own activities and practice nonacademic skills. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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