HighScope Preschool Curriculum and Professional Development Efficacy Study

Decades of developmental research have demonstrated that different early childhood experiences are associated with significant variations in brain, cognitive, language, and social development among children. These experiences may explain differences in skills that are predictive of subsequent school success. To that end, state and federal governments have invested heavily in expanding, and improving the quality of early childhood education (ECE) programs.

Impact Evaluation

AIR led a study to investigate the impact of the HighScope Preschool Curriculum (HighScope) on children’s learning and development and classroom quality. HighScope is a widely known curriculum that has served as a cornerstone in the ECE field for decades. Two primary research hypotheses were tested:

  • First, the HighScope curriculum will impact children’s learning and development due to HighScope’s targeted learning standards and approach, which emphasizes that the teacher and child closely work together on activities planned and initiated by the child.
  • Second, teachers in the treatment group using the HighScope curriculum will exhibit higher classroom quality (i.e., instructional support, emotional support, and classroom organization).

Findings and Further Questions

Read the brief highlighting findings from the study >>

A blocked cluster-randomized controlled trial design with a sample of 88 preschool centers, 138 lead teachers, and 1,310 children throughout the state of Alabama was used in this study. The findings from this study indicated that, while implementing the HighScope curriculum significantly improved classroom quality and teacher practices, it had no substantial effect on measures of children’s vocabulary development, reading decoding, mathematics skills, approaches to learning, and self-regulation in preschool, relative to the control condition.

The findings from our study raise three discussion questions:

  • Why did the study not find that HighScope improves child outcomes?
  • Should the time frame used to measure child outcomes for a whole-child curriculum like HighScope be longer? In other words, was the study long enough for child impacts to emerge at detectable levels?
  • Why are improvements in pre-K classroom quality not associated with improvement in children’s preacademic outcomes in preschool? 

Findings from this study have implications for early childhood curriculum use by programs and states, as well as the role of curriculum professional development to improve the quality of preschool classrooms.

This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A150049 awarded to AIR (Eboni C. Howard). The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.