Evaluating Free Preschool
Report 2: Preliminary Analysis of Preschool and Children’s Subsequent School Performance in 1st Grade
In 2007/2008 four - and five-year olds in the city districts Alna, Stovner, Grorud, Bjerke and Søndre Nordstrand in Oslo received an offer of a free part-time child care slot in a child care center. The background for the policy was a desire to recruit a larger share of minority children to child care centers (Proposition 1 S 2009-2010). The main purpose was to provide an institutional framework that could remove barriers to and encourage greater participation in child care through 20 hours free of charge every week. Furthermore, systematic stimulation of language development and other measures aimed at parents should raise awareness of the importance of language and participation in social activities. In this report we attempt to uncover causal effects of the intervention on the children's later achievements on test scores in Norwegian and Mathematics in first grade.
A number of studies show that children who attend institutional child care have better language development and do better in school than children who have not attended such care (see eg . Schølberg et al 2008, Meluish et al 2004, Kane 2008, NOU 2009: 10, OECD 2011, NOU 2010: 8). Children who have attended a child care center might do better in school because i) attending child care has a causal effect on children's later school performance or ii ) the children who are sent to a child care center have the abilities to perform well in school.
If the government want to achieve better integration by encouraging children from immigrant families to attend child care (cf. Proposition 1 S 2009-2010), it is essential that attending child care in fact has an effect (see the above) and not only provides additional resources to those children who would do well in school (see ii above) regardless of whether they attended child care or not. In this study we aim to uncover whether the policy had such causal effects on children’s cognitive development.
Our preliminary analysis shows that a higher share of children with an immigrant background attends child care when they are four and five years old in the intervention city districts compared to children in the same age groups in other city districts in Oslo. For the younger kids who are not covered by the policy, the use of child care is similar across city districts. It seems, thus, that the policy was successful in recruiting children to child care centers: Child care free of charge and a city district administration that actively works to motivate families to send their children to child care raise the share of children from immigrant families in child care.
We further explore how the children fare when they reach school age by analyzing test scores in first grade. We find that children of immigrant ancestry in neighborhoods offering free child care perform better on tests in Norwegian and Mathematics. We see a more pronounced effect for girls and for children from families where the mother has low income or a low degree of labor market attachment. We find no effect of the offer of free child care on child care attendance among children without an immigrant background and neither do we find effects on the later school performance of these children. This strengthens our confidence in a causal interpretation of the estimates presented in the report.