Policymakers increasingly recognize that early childhood programs can provide a pathway to later school success for disadvantaged children. However, to be effective, preschool programs must be of high enough quality to promote children’s development. This report presents the final results of the Foundations of Learning (FOL) demonstration, which evaluated an intervention designed to train preschool teachers so that they could better manage children’s behavior and promote a more positive classroom learning environment. It was hypothesized that these improved skills could strengthen children’s social and emotional competence, allowing more time to be spent on classroom teaching and learning.
FOL was tested in Newark, New Jersey, and Chicago, Illinois, using teacher training combined with weekly in-class support from a master’s-level clinician to reinforce the classroom management skills that were covered in the training. A total of 71 preschool centers (with 91 participating classrooms) were randomly assigned to implement FOL or conduct preschool as usual. Differences in classroom practices and child outcomes between the two groups were analyzed at the end of the intervention year to assess the added value of FOL over and above standard preschool practice.
The evidence shows that investments in teachers’ professional development improve children’s preschool experiences, although the long-term effects on children remain uncertain.
- FOL was delivered as intended in both sites. Lower levels of institutional resources in Chicago, however, may have posed challenges to fully implementing the classroom-based strategies.
- The intervention improved teachers’ positive classroom management in areas that it targeted directly. There was some evidence in Newark that intervention classrooms had greater amounts of instructional time and that, among teachers in the intervention group, positive classroom management was sustained one year after the intervention ended.
- Problem behavior was reduced in the intervention classrooms. Also, FOL further improved children’s social and emotional competence as measured by improvements in children’s approaches to learning and executive function skills (attention, inhibitory control, and short-term memory skills).
- The study provided no clear evidence that FOL improved children’s early literacy and mathematics skills or that the effects described above continued beyond the preschool year, although resources limited the type and amount of follow-up that was possible.
- At approximately $1,750 per child, the FOL intervention represented a 14 percent increase in program costs in Newark and a 21 percent increase in Chicago. Based on the limited data available in this demonstration beyond the preschool year, there is insufficient evidence at this point to demonstrate that the benefits of FOL in children’s academic gains, grade progression, or special needs designations outweigh its cost.