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Key Research Questions
Key Research Questions
Rate of Return Declines as Children Get Older
Rate of Return Declines as Children Get Older
NAPLAN Bands
NAPLAN Bands
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Numeracy
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Numeracy
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Reading
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Reading
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Spelling
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Spelling
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Writing
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Writing
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Grammar
NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3 Grammar
The complete paper is available at: http://www
The complete paper is available at: http://www
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Early Bird Catches the Worm: The Causal Impact of Pre-school Participation and Teacher Qualifications on Year 3 NAPLAN Cognitive Tests

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1Early Bird Catches the Worm: The 18age of four or five and academic
Causal Impact of Pre-school Participation achievement four years later. Cognitive
and Teacher Qualifications on Year 3 ability at the age of 4 or 5 is an
NAPLAN Cognitive Tests. Diana Warren and important predictor of achievement in
John Haisken-DeNew ACER Research middle childhood.
Conference 4 August 2013. Funding for this 19The Longitudinal Study of Australian
research is gratefully acknowledged by the Children (LSAC). Waves 1 and 3 of the
research partnership between the Melbourne Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
Institute of Applied Economic and Social (LSAC). The first wave of interviews began
Research and the Victorian Department of in March 2004 and families are
Education and Early Childhood Development subsequently interviewed every two years.
(DEECD). This paper uses unit record data Cognitive outcomes are measured using
from the Longitudinal Study of Australian NAPLAN Scores for Numeracy, Reading,
Children (LSAC) Survey. The LSAC project Spelling, Writing and Grammar. Sample:
was initiated and is funded by the 2229 children who had not yet begun formal
Australian Government Department of schooling in 2004, with matched NAPLAN
FaHCSIA and is managed by the Australian information for Year 3 in 2008. Over 90%
Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). The of children attended some type of
findings and views reported in this paper, pre-school or kindergarten program in the
however, are those of the authors and year before starting school.
should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA 20NAPLAN Bands.
or AIFS. 21Average NAPLAN Scores, by Pre-school
2Key Research Questions. How does Attendance.
attendance at pre-school or kindergarten 22NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3
in the year prior to formal schooling Numeracy. NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band
affect NAPLAN Scores in Year 3? Do the (%). NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%).
benefits from pre-school differ according NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). 1. 2. 3.
to the qualification of the pre-school 4. 5. 6. Total. Pre-school. 1.6. 5.5.
teacher? 18.7. 26.9. 25.5. 21.0. 100.0. No
3Method and Key Findings. Data: The Pre-school. *4.3. *7.5. 29.0. 23.2. 25.7.
Longitudinal Study of Australian Children 10.4. 100.0.
(LSAC). Identification Strategy: Kernel 23NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3
Based Propensity Score Matching. Key Reading. NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%).
Findings: Significant positive association NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN
between pre-school or kindergarten Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
attendance and Year 3 NAPLAN Scores. The 6. Total. Pre-school. 3.3. 9.0. 13.6.
impact of pre-school is substantial: 19.8. 28.6. 25.8. 100.0. No Pre-school.
Around 20 NAPLAN points, or 30% to 40% of *5.2. 13.1. 22.4. 20.8. 21.8. 16.6. 100.0.
one year of schooling. Teacher 24NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3
qualifications are important: Children Spelling. NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band
whose pre-school teacher had a degree or (%). NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%).
diploma specialising in early childhood NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). 1. 2. 3.
education gained the most from pre-school. 4. 5. 6. Total. Pre-school. 2.7. 7.9.
4The Importance of Early Childhood 13.6. 26.9. 27.0. 21.9. 100.0. No
Education. The years from birth to age 5 Pre-school. *4.2. 13.6. 23.9. 26.6. 15.7.
have been identified as the most important 16.0. 100.0.
developmental period during childhood. 25NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3
Critical periods in early childhood during Writing. NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%).
which particular skills and abilities are NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN
more readily acquired (Knudsen et. al., Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
2006). Brain development in the first 6. Total. Pre-school. 2.2. 4.1. 13.4.
years of life lays the foundation for: 26.2. 27.7. 26.4. 100.0. No Pre-school.
Language development and literacy 3.2. 6.8. 19.0. 30.6. 21.7. 18.7. 100.0.
acquisition Cognitive processes Emotional 26NAPLAN Score Distributions, Year 3
development Self-regulation and Grammar. NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%).
problem-solving skills and has a lasting NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). NAPLAN
impact on health, future learning and life Band (%). NAPLAN Band (%). 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
success (McCain and Mustard, 1999; 6. Total. Pre-school. 2.5. 6.1. 14.4.
Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000). 25.7. 19.2. 32.1. 100.0. No Pre-school.
5Substantial Returns from Investment in 6.1. 7.4. 22.2. 25.5. 17.8. 20.9. 100.0.
Pre-school. As capacity for change in 27Characteristics of Children who
human skill development is highest early Attended Pre-school. Simple differences in
in life and decreases over time, the test scores should not be regarded as
returns on public investment in high causal effects of pre-school attendance.
quality early childhood education are They may reflect other characteristics
substantial (Heckman et. al 2006). Returns that are correlated with both pre-school
to the individual in terms of increased attendance and NAPLAN outcomes. Children
earnings, higher education, improved who did not attend pre-school were less
physical and mental well-being. Positive advantaged than those who did attend. More
returns to society in terms of reduced likely to be in low-income and lone parent
crime and delinquency, public expenditure households; children whose parents did not
savings and increased tax revenues. As complete high school were less likely to
learning is a cumulative process in which attend pre-school.
early skills facilitate further skill 28Estimating the Effects of Pre-school
acquisition, the benefits of early Attendance. OLS estimates: Average effect
interventions are larger and are enjoyed of pre-school participation on NAPLAN
for longer (Heckman, 2006). Early scores. Controlling for characteristics of
intervention programs are often more cost : the child (gender, age, ATSI status,
effective than later remediation (Carniero birth weight, health) the household
and Heckman, 2003). (household income, household size, lone
6Rate of Return Declines as Children parent household, older and younger
Get Older. The rate of return from siblings, LOTE) the mother (education,
investment in human capital declines as age, employment status); and state and
children get older. Remedial programs in region of residence To control for the
the adolescent and young adult years are innate ability of the child, models are
more costly in producing the same level of re-estimated with the child’s score on the
skill attainment in adulthood (Heckman, “Who Am I?” test, taken at the time of
2006). Source: Heckman (2006). their 2004 interview.
7Benefits of Targeted Pre-school 29The “Who Am I?” Test. A measure of
Programs. Significant benefits for cognitive development created by the
children who attend high quality Australian Council for Educational
pre-school programs: Better intellectual Research (ACER) in 1997. Developed based
development Higher levels of on previous research about the use of
concentration, sociability and copying and writing tasks for the
independence Some of the best known assessment of children’s developmental
evidence of the benefits of high quality level and school readiness. Children are
early education experiences on later asked to write their name, copy and write
development comes from targeted early letters, numbers, words and sentences with
intervention programs undertaken in the simple instructions and encouragement from
United States. These programs are intended their interviewer. These abilities have
for disadvantaged children, particularly been shown to be strongly associated with
those from single-parent or low-income cognitive development and subsequent
families. school achievement. Provides a reliable
8The HighScope Perry Pre-school measure of development which is valid
Program. Targeted towards children from across cultural groups and among children
low-income households who were assessed to whose knowledge of English is limited.
be at high risk of school failure. A 30OLS Estimates, Effect of Pre-school on
2-year program of weekday morning NAPLAN Scores. Numeracy. 13.6**. 9.9**.
pre-school routine combined with weekly Reading. 18.7***. 14.7**. Spelling.
home visits by program staff. 17.3**. 13.7***. Writing. 10.9**. 7.8.
Teacher-child ratio of one to five, with Grammar. 14.4**. 9.9. Without Control for
teachers qualified in early childhood Ability. With Control for Ability. Note:
education. Classrooms arranged to support ***, ** and * represent statistical
children’s self-initiated learning significance at the 1%, 5% and 10% levels
activities as well as small-group and respectively.
large-group activities. Children who 31OLS Estimates: Characteristics of the
participated in the program were better Child. Boys score higher than girls in
prepared for school and significantly Numeracy. Girls score higher than boys in
outperformed the no-program group on Writing, Spelling, and Grammar. Children
various intellectual and language tests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
from their pre-school years up to age 14, background have substantially lower scores
and also on literacy tests at ages 19 and for Spelling, Grammar and Numeracy.
27. Children who speak a second language have
9The Abecedarian Project. An early significantly higher Spelling scores.
intervention program administered to Children who weighed less than 2.5kg at
low-income children in the United States, birth scored lower in Reading, Grammar and
with long-lasting benefits. Infants were Numeracy. Average test scores increase by
randomly assigned to either a treatment or 2 to 3 points for each additional month of
control group. All of the children a child’s age.
received child care and health services at 32OLS Estimates: Household
a centre with enriched resources. The Characteristics. Children who had an older
treatment group received intense resident sibling had lower average test
intervention, consisting of a pre-school scores in Reading, Spelling and Grammar.
and school-age education program. Children who had younger resident siblings
Statistically significant difference in had significantly higher scores for
the IQ of children in the treatment group Grammar. Across all five domains, there
at the end of pre-school and also at the was a small but significant effect of
ages of 8 and 12. The children who household income, with average test scores
participated in the intervention program increasing by approximately 1 point with
completed more years of education, and every $100 of weekly household income.
were more likely to attend a four-year 33OLS Estimates: Characteristics of the
college. Mother. Mother’s education level is a very
10Head Start. Targeted to local important factor. Compared to children
community needs and cater for several whose mother had not completed high
hundred thousand children across the school, average test scores of children
United States. Half-day, centre-based whose mother had a degree-level
programcare for children from qualification were significantly higher:
disadvantaged families in the two years Numeracy: 33 points Reading: 41 points
before starting school. Program Spelling: 22 points Writing: 30 points
participants may also receive related Grammar: 36 points This may be due to
health, parenting and other child and innate ability, a better home learning
family support services. Significant environment or parents placing more value
short-term increases in test scores, as on education.
well as reductions in grade repetition and 34Propensity Score Matching. Children
learning disability diagnosis, are divided into two groups: The treatment
particularly for the most disadvantaged group (who attended pre-school) The
male children in the sample. In the control group (who did not attend
long-term, Male Head Start participants pre-school) Each child in the treatment
were less likely to be out of the labour group is matched as closely as possible
force Female Head Start participants were with a child in the control group based on
more likely to attend and complete one their observable characteristics. Taking
year of college. the difference in the mean NAPLAN scores
11The Chicago Child Parent Centres between the set of students who attended
(CPC). A part-day public kindergarten pre-school and the observationally
program for children aged 3 and 4 who are equivalent matched set of students who did
at risk of academic underachievement. not attend pre-school. Propensity score
Follow on program providing reduced class matching can provide causal estimates,
sizes and encouraging parental involvement assuming that both the treatment
during the first three years of school. assignment and the outcome of interest do
Run by teachers with college degrees and not depend on unobservable
early childhood certification, emphasising characteristics.
basic skills in language and mathematics. 35Average Treatment Effects. Average
At age 28, CPC participants had: Higher effect of Treatment on Treated (ATT): The
levels of educational attainment Higher benefit from pre-school attendance for
income levels Significantly lower rates of those who attended. Average effect of
drug and alcohol abuse Lower rates of Treatment on Untreated (ATU): How much
crime. higher the NAPLAN scores of children who
12Large Scale Public Pre-school did not go to pre-school might have been,
Programs. Larger scale public programs if they had attended. Treatment effects
often have weaker effects than targeted are estimated with and without the
programs (Barnett, 1998; Dumas and inclusion of the “Who Am I?” Score; and
Lefranc, 2010). Mixed evidence about the including variables measuring the home
long-term effects of typical pre-school learning environment when the child was 4
programs: Long-term academic and social years old: How often the child was read to
benefits for all children (Berlinski, each week How many children’s books in the
Galiani and Manacorda, 2008). Substantial child’s home At home and out of home
gains for disadvantaged children activities (e.g. music, sports).
(Fitzpatrick, 2008). Academic benefits of 36Causal Estimates of Pre-school
pre-school attendance tend to fade over Participation. Without control for
time (Goodman and Sianesi, 2005). ability. Without control for ability.
Pre-school attendance may be associated With control for ability. With control
with poorer behavioural outcomes for ability. With controls for ability and
(Magnuson, Ruhm and Waldfogel, 2007). No home learning environment. With controls
conclusive evidence that a pre-school for ability and home learning environment.
teacher with a Bachelor degree will ensure ATT. ATU. ATT. ATU. ATT. ATU. Numeracy.
better cognitive outcomes (Early et. al, 18.2***. 19.3***. 15.2***. 16.6***. 12.4*.
2007). 13.1***. Reading. 20.9***. 24.9***.
13Early Childhood Education in 18.0***. 21.1***. 16.1*. 18.1***.
Australia. Australian families are offered Spelling. 20.2***. 21.6***. 17.5***.
a diverse range of options. Each state and 17.6***. 15.9**. 17.0***. Writing. 13.1**.
territory offers non-compulsory pre-school 15.8***. 10.1*. 12.0***. 7.7. 10.5*.
education to children in the year prior to Grammar. 12.1. 20.2***. 9.6. 15.5***. 6.4.
their first formal year of schooling. 12.2**. . Note: ***, ** and * represent
Programs are provided in a mix of statistical significance at the 1%, 5% and
contexts, including stand-alone 10% levels respectively.
pre-schools, kindergartens, Long Day Care, 37The Role of Pre-school Teacher
and early learning centres. Until Qualifications. In 2004, most children
recently, there were no nationally agreed attended some type of pre-school or
or consistent standards for staffing kindergarten program, but it is likely
across the child-care and pre-school that there were substantial differences in
sector. As part of the 2008 COAG the quality of pre-school programs. No
agreement, all children in the year before nationally agreed or consistent standards
starting formal schooling now have access for staffing across the child care and
to an early childhood education program pre-school sector. Models are estimated to
Delivered by a degree qualified early compare the effects of specific pre-school
childhood teacher 15 hours per week, 40 teacher qualifications: Qualification of
weeks per year. pre-school teacher. %. Degree in Early
14Costs and Incentives. Incentives Childhood Education or Child Care. 47.5.
provided by State and Federal governments: Other Teaching Degree. 9.8. Diploma in
Additional university places for early Early Childhood Education or Child Care.
childhood education degrees Removal of 24.9. Certificate in Early Childhood
TAFE fees for diploma-level qualifications Education or Child Care. 10.2. Other (No
Fee remissions for early childhood relevant Child Care or Teaching
teachers willing to work in regional areas Qualification). 7.5.
Of the $1.4 billion expenditure by state 38Causal Estimates: Average Treatment
and territory governments on ECEC in Effect on Treated. Without Control for
2012-13, 80% ($1.1 billion) comprised Ability. Without Control for Ability.
expenditure on pre-school services Without Control for Ability. Without
(Productivity Commission, 2014). Given the Control for Ability. Without Control for
substantial cost of public pre-school Ability. Numeracy. Reading. Spelling.
programs, it is of particular policy Writing. Grammar. Early Childhood
interest to examine the longer-run impacts Education Degree. 15.2**. 19.4***. 17.5**.
of these programs. There are very few 8.2. 6.5. Other Teaching Degree. 18.4*.
studies examining the impact of early 22.6*. 19.2. 19.5*. 15.5. Diploma.
childhood education and care in Australia. 21.2***. 23.6***. 20.1**. 9.7. 15.0.
15Pre-school Literacy Project (PLP). 40 Certificate. 12.6. 17.4. 18.1. 7.81. 2.4.
pre-schools across Victoria between 1996 No relevant qualification. 14.6. 14.9.
and 1999. Pre-school teachers encouraged 16.9*. 10.2. 12.3. With Control for
to introduce literacy into their programs: Ability. With Control for Ability. With
Placing a writing table in the room along Control for Ability. With Control for
with appropriate resources Introducing Ability. With Control for Ability.
literacy materials into the “home corner” Numeracy. Reading. Spelling. Writing.
Introducing a post box for letter Grammar. Early Childhood Education Degree.
exchanges Bringing the print around their 12.5*. 17.1**. 15.0**. 6.3. 4.5. Other
room down to the children’s eye level Teaching Degree. 15.5. 19.3. 16.3. 16.6.
After one year of primary school, PLP 11.9. Diploma. 16.5**. 18.6**. 15.4*. 6.4.
students had: Significantly higher scores 10.6. Certificate. 12.4. 17.3. 18.7. 8.5.
on reading and writing tests Higher level 1.0. No relevant qualification. 14.2.
oral language skills More sophisticated 13.9. 17.5. 8.8. 10.8. Note: ***, ** and *
phonological awareness During the second represent statistical significance at the
year of school, the PLP students 1%, 5% and 10% levels respectively.
maintained their advantage in reading and 39Conclusions. These are the first
oral language proficiency. results for Australia that show a
16Child Care Choices Longitudinal significant impact of pre-school
Extension Study. A study of the child care attendance on later NAPLAN outcomes.
and early school experiences of children Pre-school is Important: For Reading,
in urban and rural New South Wales from Spelling and Numeracy, causal ATT effects
2002 to 2008 (Bowes et. al., 2009). Hours of 17 to 20 points. After controlling for
of care, multiple and changeable care ability, estimated effects are reduced by
arrangements and the quality of the 2 to 4 points. These causal estimates are
carer-child relationship were important substantial, with pre-school amounting to
predictors of children’s achievement. 30-40% of the learning impact of one year
Longer hours in early formal child care of schooling, 3 years later. Pre-school
were found to be associated with poorer Teacher Qualifications and Specialisation
academic achievement. Longer hours of are Important: Children whose pre-school
early informal care had a positive effect teacher had a diploma or degree in Early
on social behaviour. Childhood Education or Child Care gained
17Performance Indicators in Primary the most. These results contrast Early et.
Schools (PIPS). The Performance Indicators al (2007) who find no association between
in Primary Schools (PIPS) program assesses teacher qualification and outcomes in the
the early literacy and numeracy skills of pre-school year.
students. PIPS is used to assess each 40Policy Implications. The long-run
student’s early literacy and numeracy causal impacts of pre-school attendance
skills and identify students who will confirm the value and importance of high
benefit from intervention or enrichment quality pre-school programs for later
programs. Boardman (2005) compared the cognitive outcomes. For maximal program
PIPS scores of 884 students across 38 impact, pre-school teachers should have at
schools in Tasmania, who began their least a diploma level qualification. The
preparatory year of school in January COAG agreement ensuring all children have
2004. Reading, Numeracy and overall test access to a pre-school program delivered
scores were significantly higher among by a degree qualified early childhood
children who had attended full-day teacher is likely to have substantial
sessions of kindergarten the previous long-term benefits. The Productivity
year. Commission Draft Report into Early
18Australian Studies using the LSAC Childhood Education and Care (2014)
Data. Harrison (2009): Children who were recommends that: “The Australian
attending an early childhood or pre-school Government should continue to provide per
program at the age of 4 or 5 were more child payments to the states and
competent in language ability. Vocabulary territories for universal access to a
scores were negatively associated with pre-school program of 15 hours per week
longer weekly hours at child care or for 40 weeks per year.”.
pre-school, particularly among children 41The complete paper is available at:
who were in care for more than 30 hours http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/download
per week. Claessens (2009): Examined the /working_paper_series/wp2013n34.pdf. Thank
association between general cognitive You.
ability and socio-emotional skills at the
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Early Bird Catches the Worm: The Causal Impact of Pre-school Participation and Teacher Qualifications on Year 3 NAPLAN Cognitive Tests

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