Cluster Randomized Trial of the Efficacy of Early Childhood Science Education for Low-Income Children

The research goal of this project is to evaluate whether an early childhood science education program, implemented in low-income preschool settings produces measurable impacts for children, teachers, and parents. The study is determining the efficacy of the program on Science curriculum in two models, one in which teachers participate in professional development activities (the intervention), and another in which teachers receive the curriculum and teachers' guide but no professional development (the control).

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
1119327
Funding Period: 
August 15, 2011 to July 31, 2017
Project Evaluator: 
Brian Dates, Southwest Counseling Services
Full Description: 

The research goal of this project is to evaluate whether an early childhood science education program, Head Start on Science, implemented in low-income preschool settings (Head Start) produces measurable impacts for children, teachers, and parents. The study is being conducted in eight Head Start programs in Michigan, involving 72 classrooms, 144 teachers, and 576 students and their parents. Partners include Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, and the 8 Head Start programs. Southwest Counseling Solutions is the external evaluator.

The study is determining the efficacy of the Head Start on Science curriculum in two models, one in which 72 teachers participate in professional development activities (the intervention), and another in which 72 teachers receive the curriculum and teachers' guide but no professional development (the control). The teacher study is a multi-site cluster randomized trial (MSCRT) with the classroom being the unit of randomization. Four time points over two years permit analysis through multilevel latent growth curve models. For teachers, measurement instruments include Attitudes Toward Science (ATS survey), the Head Start on Science Observation Protocol, the Preschool Classroom Science Materials/Equipment Checklist, the Preschool Science Classroom Activities Checklist, and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). For students, measures include the "mouse house problem," Knowledge of Biological Properties, the physics of falling objects, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Fourth Edition, the Expressive Vocabulary Test-2, the Test of Early Mathematics Ability-3, Social Skills Improvement System-Rating Scales, and the Emotion Regulation Checklist. Measures for parents include the Attitudes Toward Science survey, and the Community and Home Activities Related to Science and Technology for Preschool Children (CHARTS/PS). There are Spanish versions of many of these instruments which can be used as needed. The external evaluation is monitoring the project progress toward its objectives and the processes of the research study.

This project meets a critical need for early childhood science education. Research has shown that very young children can achieve significant learning in science. The curriculum Head Start on Science has been carefully designed for 3-5 year old children and is one of only a few science programs for this audience with a national reach. This study intends to provide a sound basis for early childhood science education by demonstrating the efficacy of this important curriculum in the context of a professional development model for teachers.