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Early Childhood Education Centers and Mothers’ Postsecondary Attainment: A New Conceptual Framework for a Dual-Generation Education Intervention


by Teresa Eckrich Sommer, P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Margo Gardner, Diana Mendley Rauner & Karen Freel — 2012

Background/Context: Economic, developmental, and sociological theories and research suggest that there are benefits associated with on-time postsecondary credentialing and training for low-income parents even though this often means the management of family, work, and school while children are young. This argument is based on three conclusions drawn from the literature: (1) early childhood is a time when children are uniquely responsive to their environments, and interventions during this developmental period result in greater returns on investments than do later interventions; (2) maternal postsecondary credentials may be more beneficial for younger children than for older school-aged children; and (3) the educational advancements of parents strengthen the economic and social assets of families and are likely to help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study places special emphasis on exploring how an early childhood education center can enhance the educational prospects of parents of young children and poses the following three questions: (1) How do young low-income mothers vary in their readiness for postsecondary success? (2) How does participation in high-quality early childhood education programs support mothers’ educational pursuits? (3) How do mothers, in the context of high-quality early education, connect their educational goals for their children with their own educational goals?

Research Design: In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 intentionally and 39 randomly selected parents whose children were enrolled in urban early childhood centers in Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; and Miami, Florida. Seventeen focus groups were carried out with program staff and teachers at the three centers. All transcribed interview data were analyzed through the creation of individual profiles to examine variation in mothers’ postsecondary readiness and through a “grounded theory” approach.

Findings/Results: Results indicate that (a) low-income mothers vary in their potential for postsecondary success and can be classified in three clusters; (b) all mothers are concerned for their children’s education, and most believe that a college education is economically essential; (c) participation in high-quality early education may make a difference in mothers’ views of their potential; and (d) those who observe their children thriving in an early childhood program may be more motivated to pursue their own education.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Together, these results suggest a new framework for addressing the postsecondary and career needs of low-income families with young children: High-quality early childhood education centers may be a promising platform for adult education and training. Gains in educational attainment made through participation in such programming may cultivate skills and knowledge among parents that will not only improve their financial stability but also promote the educational and social development of their children.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 10, 2012, p. 1-40
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16678, Date Accessed: 10/2/2014 6:26:40 AM

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About the Author
  • Teresa Sommer
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    TERESA ECKRICH SOMMER is a research scientist at the Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University. Her work focuses on the intersection of policy and practice for economically disadvantaged families and their children. She specializes in how social and educational institutions influence the life course of families, especially through investments in human and social capital (including basic life skills, education, and social networks). Her current research focuses on dual-generation educational investments for parents and children.
  • P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    P. LINDSAY CHASE-LANSDALE is a professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy and director, Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University. She specializes in multidisciplinary, policy-relevant research on social issues and how they affect families and the development of children, youth, and families. Much of her work addresses children’s social and educational outcomes in the context of family economic hardship. Specific topics include early childhood education, postsecondary education, immigration, welfare reform, maternal employment, marriage and cohabitation, and parent–child relationships. She has coedited three books and has authored more than 80 publications.
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
    Teachers College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University National Center for Children and Families
    E-mail Author
    JEANNE BROOKS-GUNN is the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child Development and Education at Teachers College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, and she directs the National Center for Children and Families (www.policyforchildren.org). She is interested in factors that contribute to both positive and negative outcomes across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, with a particular focus on key social and biological transitions over the life course. She designs and evaluates intervention programs for children and parents (Early Head Start, Infant Health and Development Program, Head Start Quality Program). Other large-scale longitudinal studies include the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study and the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (co-PI of both). She is the author of four books and more than 350 publications.
  • Margo Gardner
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    MARGO GARDNER is a research scientist at the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University. Currently, her research focuses on exploring the interactive contributions of families, institutions, and neighborhoods to adolescent and young adult development. Recent publications include a study identifying neighborhood-level moderation of the link between parental affect and adolescents’ sexual behavior (Gardner, Martin, & Brooks-Gunn, 2011, Exploring the Link Between Caregiver Affect and Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Does Neighborhood Disadvantage Matter? doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2011.00752.x), and a study documenting neighborhood-level moderation of the paths from parents’ poor social support and parental depression to child maltreatment (Martin, Gardner, & Brooks-Gunn, 2011, The Mediated and Moderated Effects of Family Support on Child Maltreatment, doi:10.1177/0192513X11431683).
  • Diana Rauner
    Ounce of Prevention Fund
    E-mail Author
    DIANA MENDLEY RAUNER is president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership serving at-risk children and their families from birth to age 5. Her research interests include early childhood development, school readiness, economic benefits of early childhood investments, closing the academic achievement gap for at-risk children, and engaging parents of low-income children.
  • Karen Freel
    Ounce of Prevention Fund
    E-mail Author
    KAREN FREEL is vice president of research & evaluation at the Ounce of Prevention Fund. Her research interests include early childhood development (language, cognitive and social-emotional), program innovations and interventions for low-income, at-risk children from birth to age 5, program evaluation, and policy implications of research and evaluation in early childhood and parenting (parent–child interactions, parenting programs, and interventions).
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