New York City is boosting achievement among its most disadvantaged four-year-olds by training them in fundamental skills, such as good behaviour, concentration and healthy eating. Targeting families in high-poverty, ethnic-minority areas, ParentCorps enhances pre-school education by giving parents and teachers the tools to foster productive early learning. Trials show it improves children’s academic and behavioural performance, and decreases the likelihood of mental and physical health problems – potentially saving the state more than $4,300 per child in the long run.
Results & Impact
Randomised control trials have picked up on several significant impacts on disadvantaged ethnic-minority children. For example, those given ParentCorps support received higher reading scores in the first year of school, lower rates of conduct problems at six, and reduced chances of obesity five years after the intervention: 24% compared to 54% in a control group. Mathematical models estimate it could save $4,387 per student in the long term, due to savings per child in health, criminal justice and social security expenditures. Thirty-five high-poverty pre-school sites run the full curriculum, and professional development courses take place in 350 more. Social-emotional learning materials have been distributed to all 1,870 pre-school sites in New York, reaching around 70,000 families.
New York City Department of Education, Center for Early Childhood Health and Development at New York University Langone Health
There are three different components of ParentCorps: professional development for teachers and program leaders; a course for pre-school parents which includes developing practices like building a routine at home; and a social-emotional curriculum for pre-K students, which teaches skills like paying attention and being a good helper. The program is run by the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development, where "ParentCorps Educators" train pre-school teachers and leaders, and create training materials and protocols. They partnered with the Department of Education, which runs the public school system, to provide the funding and infrastructure to scale the project. Embedded within pre-schools, courses for parents and children run for 14 weeks, with one session per week lasting between 90 minutes and two hours.
New York City, New York
Infants and toddlers
Cost & Value
Over a five-year period, the program cost $320,000 to serve 360 children - around $888 per student. The Department of Education’s funding for the policy, including staffing, training courses and materials, costs around $13.8 million from 2016 to 2019.
Launched in 1998, and scaling up since 2015
A major challenge has been helping teachers to clear the time for their professional development, which can prove very difficult given their busy schedules. Another related difficulty is making sure the resources for teachers to learn the techniques are as clear, effective, and time-sensitive as possible. Going forward, the challenge is to make sure they keep up the levels of investment to continue taking the program to scale.
Similar successful preschool programs are taking place in other cities including Boston, Tulsa and Washington D.C., but ParentCorps itself has not been replicated elsewhere.
New York is boosting the development of its most disadvantaged four-year-olds with special training programs for them, their parents and their teachers.
The “ParentCorps” courses are designed as an enhancement to pre-school education for children in high-poverty areas, and have produced impressive results so far. Trials show improved academic and behavioural performance, as well as lower chances of future mental and physical health problems.
“What ParentCorps does is honour the fact that a child’s guardian is their primary teacher, particularly in their early years. Engaging them in becoming part of the early child development process is absolutely critical, and it will amplify the impact of what we do in the classroom,” said Josh Wallack, Deputy Chancellor for Strategy and Policy at the New York City Department of Education.
In one randomised control trial of 1,050 low-income, predominantly black students, the intervention caused higher kindergarten achievement test scores and lower rates of misbehaviour by the age of six.
“The results recorded may have the potential to close racial and socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment”
Children with the extra support also increased their physical activity, watched less television, and were less likely to be obese five years after the intervention: 24% compared to 54% in a control group. Meanwhile, in high-risk families there was an increase in parental involvement in early learning, and a decrease in harsh and inconsistent behaviour.
Perhaps most significantly, the results indicate that the program may have the potential to close racial and socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment. The impact on reading achievement, for example, is comparable to the achievement gap documented nationally between black and white students in their first year of school.
“The intersection of poverty, race, discrimination, and poor health often persist in adulthood and across generations of families, resulting in a continuous cycle of persistent social and health inequalities,” said Laurie Brotman, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development at New York University Langone Health.
Developed by Brotman and her colleagues at the university, ParentCorps consists of three different components: professional development for pre-school teachers and program leaders; a course for pre-school parents, which includes developing practices like building a routine at home; and a social-emotional curriculum for the four-year-olds themselves.
“It’s really that combination of teachers learning these practices, program leaders learning the practices, and children and families learning them together, that those randomised-control trials showed such a profound impact,” said Wallack.
Embedded in pre-schools, courses for parents and children consist of one session per week for 14 weeks, usually lasting between 90 minutes and two hours. “The children work through topics like paying attention and following directions, taking good care of their bodies, being a good helper and asking for help, and then weeks learning about the set of emotions and some techniques we can use in coping with them,” said Wallack.
“It really becomes part of the fabric of what pre-school is all about”
“There’s the explicit program itself, but also they wind up referring to these practices and skills throughout the day in a very organic way. It really becomes part of the fabric of what pre-school is all about,” he said.
ParentCorps is run by the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development, where ParentCorps educators train pre-school teachers and leaders, while creating effective training materials and protocols. The organisation partnered with the Department of Education, which runs the public school system, to provide the funding and infrastructure to scale the project as part of their “pre-K for all” initiative.
First launched in 1998, ParentCorps has been scaling up since 2015. All three components are run in 35 high-poverty pre-school sites, where the help is voluntary but universally available. While the main aim is to engage highest-risk families, universal access helps to remove any stigma which could be attached to the program. The program will expand to 55 sites by the end of 2019.
There is professional development for teachers in 350 more, and social-emotional learning materials distributed to all 1,870 pre-school sites in New York. In some form, therefore, ParentCorps is reaching around 70,000 families.
Another key aspect of the program is the money it could save. Over a five-year period, the full program costs $320,000 to serve 360 children, amounting to around $888 per student. However, mathematical models estimate it could save $4,387 per student in the long term, thanks to savings in health, criminal justice and social security expenditures. The Department of Education is spending around $13.8 million on the program from 2016 to 2019, which includes staffing, training courses and materials.
The biggest challenge, Wallack identifies, is helping teachers and pre-school leaders clear the time for extra training. “We have to figure out how to get them the information in a concise and clear way, and we have to be effective at delivering it to them as they need it,” he said.
Going forward, they also need to make sure to keep up the momentum. “The better we get at professional development, and the more investments we make, the better those kids will do. The challenge for us is to keep that investment going,” said Wallack.
ParentCorps itself has not been replicated elsewhere, but similar preschool programs are proving effective, such as those in Boston, Tulsa and Washington D.C. “We hope that what we learn here can be used by other cities, and we also learn from other cities,” said Wallack.
With racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remaining stubbornly in place, both in the United States and around the world, projects like ParentCorps could represent a big step in the right direction.
(Picture credit: NYC Mayoral Photo Office/Ed Reed)