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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