This study examines the effects of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s early childhood education programs on social-emotional outcomes at kindergarten entry. As such, it extends our prior work demonstrating substantial positive impacts of the Tulsa pre-K and Head Start programs on cognitive development, including pre-reading skills, pre-writing skills, and pre-math skills (Gormley, Phillips, & Gayer, 2008). We focus on children who were enrolled in either the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) pre-K program or the Community Action Project (CAP) of Tulsa County Head Start program during the year prior to kindergarten.
Oklahoma’s pre-K program has received national attention because, as one of a handful of programs with universal eligibility, it reaches a higher percentage of fouryear-olds (68%) than any other program in the nation (Barnett al. al. , 2007). It also offers atypically high quality preschool education (Phillips, Gormley, & Lowenstein, in press), perhaps in part because Oklahoma requires a lead teacher with a B. A. degree who is early-childhood-certified in every classroom and pays these teachers regular school system wages. In Tulsa, the CAP Head Start program follows the same guidelines.
As a result, this investigation may be seen as offering a “best case scenario” look at the potential contribution of high-quality school-based pre-K and Head Start programs to children’s social-emotional development. Social-emotional Development Young children’s social-emotional development captures a broad swath of specific outcomes, ranging from the ability to identify and understand one’s own and others’ feelings, establish and sustain relationships with both peers and adults, and regulate one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2005).
The importance of these foundational capacities has been welldocumented. Having behavior problems in early childhood, for example, is associated with low peer acceptance, maladaptive teacher-child relationships, and anti-social disorders and delinquency in middle childhood and adolescence (Brody et al. , 2003; Ladd & Burgess, 1999; Nagin & Tremblay, 2001; Shaw, Owens, Giovannelli, & Winslow, 2001; White, Moffitt, Earls, Robins, & Silva, 1990).
Early childhood behavior that is more internalizing in nature, such as fearfulness or behavioral inhibition, is also associated with the development of serious anxiety problems in middle childhood and beyond (Tincas, Benga & Fox, 2006; Fox et al. , 2005; Schwartz, Wright, Shin, Kagan, & Rauch, 2003). The emergence of emotional and behavioral problems in children is much more likely under conditions of adversity, with poverty and low social-economic status having been studied extensively in this context.
Deep and prolonged poverty, perhaps especially during the early childhood years (Duncan, Yeung, Brooks-Gunn, & Smith, 1998), has been found repeatedly to predict emotional and behavioral problems in children, even after accounting for parent and family characteristics (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994; Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994; McLoyd, 1998; Ripke & Huston, 2005).
The effects of poverty appear to be more pronounced for externalizing behavior problems (e. g. , aggression, defiance) than for internalizing behavior problems (e. g. , social withdrawal, depression) (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997).