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Young ASian Boy Looking Through Magnifying Glass - Teaching Preschool Children ScienceStart!

How Effective Are Creative Curriculum And High Scope In Teaching Preschool Children?

There are a number of questions preschool educators need to ask when considering which products to purchase: Is the program developmentally appropriate? Does its scope and sequence carefully build on skills, concepts, and content previously covered? Does the program incorporate literacy, the arts, large and small motor skills, math and science? Can a child’s progress be evaluated?

While there are numerous products available to purchase including workbooks, posters, and lesson plans, only a few have the range and market depth to warrant serious consideration. Creative Curriculum and High/Scope are serious contenders for preschools seeking to adopt a multi unit, year-long program. ScienceStart! is relatively new and will be discussed separately.

Creative Curriculum is centered on five ‘Study Topics’ – Balls, Buildings, Trees, Clothes and Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and has daily lesson plans and various ancillary materials. The curriculum incorporates 38 ‘researched-based’ objectives: social emotional, physical, language, cognitive. The most recent edition expands the objectives to include literacy, math, science and technology, social studies, arts, and English language acquisition.

On its face Creative Curriculum appears to be a professionally developed program with good production values. One potential limitation is the focus on just five disparate study topics that may not provide a coherent and progressive program. The addition of new objectives appear adjunct to the main program. The bottom line is: does Creative Curriculum work? There are many statements about how it is based on the latest research, but nothing that would indicate that studies have been undertaken or sponsored to test its effect on children’s outcomes.

However, there are a few external studies of the effectiveness of Creative Curriculum. The U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences reviewed five studies of which just two were deemed to meet research evidence standards. Both these studies looked at the effectiveness of the fourth edition (a fifth edition is now available) ‘and (Creative Curriculum) was found to have no discernible effects on oral language, print knowledge, phonological processing or math for preschool children.’

The High/Scope program is based on a two-year intervention beginning 1968 at the Perry Preschool Program, Ypsilanti MI. One hundred and twenty three low-income three and four years olds were randomly assigned to groups, one being High/Scope. In this intervention students had 212 hours of classes, five days a week using a ‘plan, do, review’ approach to learning, and bi-weekly two-hour home visits. In a report following up on students at age 15 the other two groups were identified as Distar and Traditional Preschool. Distar was changed to Direct Instruction in a report on students at age 23 and later these three groups became High/Scope and Conventional programs.

In the age15 follow-up study students who attended the Distar program self-reported twice as many delinquent acts and five times as many acts of property violence than the other groups. At age 23 the Direct Instruction group had three times the number of felony arrests and 47% were treated for emotional impairment and/or disturbance during schooling.

In 1997 developers Lawrence J. Schweinhart and David P. Weikart (1) noted in terms of the 23 year group that “for a decade virtually no curriculum group differences in intellectual and academic performance were found. In many areas, no statistically significant differences were found at age 15 or 23…” However, there was one emerging difference at 15 and 23 years. By 23 the non-intervention group had three times as many felony arrests than the intervention group. A later follow-up (2) at age 40 found differences in encounters with the law. Schweinhart also noted “It is true that the High Scope Perry Preschool Program had a significant effect on children’s IQ during and up to a year after the program, but not after it.” The bottom line seemed to be that using High/Scope would result in economic benefit because of more productive citizens as opposed to those who were an economic and social drain on society.

Absent of any independent research on the effectiveness of High Scope we are left to rely on findings and follow-up reports by the developers. These were published periodically and by comparing each some disparities emerge. First, as noted above, the Distar group (which seemed to have issues of unlawful behavior and emotional/discipline problems) became the Direct Instruction group and later this group and the Traditional Preschool group were combined into a Conventional Preschool group. Second is the issue of attrition. In the age 15 report 79% of the original sample were interviewed. The decline is not surprising given that low-income folk tend to frequently move. The High Scope reports fail to give actual numbers of participants included in the follow-ups and instead use percentages. It is quite possible that at age 23, 40 and 50 there was significant attrition, bringing into question the significance of follow up findings.

It seems odd to extrapolate that a two-year intervention at age three/four and four/five, although having no effect on intellectual and academic performance, was so life changing that it manifested itself in later socio-economic status. The developers seem to attribute the ability of the intervention group to reflect on actions and behavior (through ‘plan, do, review’) as having decades long staying power.

[1] Lawrence J. Schweinhart & David P. Weikart. The High Scope Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study through age 23. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 12, Issue 2, 1997.

[2] Lawrence J. Schweinhart. The High Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40. High Scope Educational Research Foundation (No date).


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