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Psychol Sci. 2016 Jan;27(1):53-63. doi: 10.1177/0956797615610882. Epub 2015 Nov 13.

Classroom Age Composition and the School Readiness of 3- and 4-Year-Olds in the Head Start Program.

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Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, University of Texas at Austin
Department of Human Sciences, The Ohio State University.
Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, University of Texas at Austin.


The federal Head Start program, designed to improve the school readiness of children from low-income families, often serves 3- and 4-year-olds in the same classrooms. Given the developmental differences between 3- and 4-year-olds, it is unknown whether educating them together in the same classrooms benefits one group, both, or neither. Using data from the Family and Child Experiences Survey 2009 cohort, this study used a peer-effects framework to examine the associations between mixed-age classrooms and the school readiness of a nationally representative sample of newly enrolled 3-year-olds (n = 1,644) and 4-year-olds (n = 1,185) in the Head Start program. Results revealed that 4-year-olds displayed fewer gains in academic skills during the preschool year when they were enrolled in classrooms with more 3-year-olds; effect sizes corresponded to 4 to 5 months of academic development. In contrast, classroom age composition was not consistently associated with 3-year-olds' school readiness.


FACES 2009; Head Start; classroom age composition; peer effects; school readiness

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