Early Education Experiences & School-to-Work Program Participation

Article excerpt

This study assesses the effects of Head Start participation and demonstrated academic ability during elementary school on School-to-Work (STW) program participation. The study sample comes from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 Cohort and comprises 4,370 adolescents who reported grades they received while in the 8th grade and whether or not they ever repeated a grade in grammar school. Findings indicate that STW programs attract disproportionate numbers of students with histories of marginal demonstrated academic ability. This is so because STW programs are also more likely to attract Head Starters. Demonstrated academic ability varies by race/ethnicity and sex, with lower participation rates by white males. The author suggests that efforts to achieve a more heterogeneous racial/ethnic mix of students to take advantage of school-to-work based initiatives would strengthen such programs. In doing so, such efforts would increase the prospects of Head Start participants entering the mainstream of socioeconomic life in the US more easily than would be the case otherwise. In addition, such efforts would make the US workforce more competitive in an increasingly global economy.

Keywords: Head Start, School-to- Work initiatives, economically disadvantaged adolescents

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This study assesses the effects of Head Start participation and demonstrated academic ability during elementary school on STW program participation. It takes into account gender and race/ethnicity, and, to a lesser extent, later socioeconomic status. The study sample comes from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 Cohort and comprises 4,370 adolescents who reported grades they received while in the 8th grade and whether or not they ever repeated a grade in grammar school. At issue here is the extent to which STW programs attract students from less diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and with roughly similar academic experiences while in elementary school.

This issue is important given that proponents of STW programs sought to appeal to all high school students, and thereby ensure a greater likelihood of academic rigor when linking workplace experience with school-based instruction. These objectives would be thwarted if STW programs were more likely to attract students primarily from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds or with poor histories of demonstrated academic ability, or if such programs catered primarily to women. This is so in part because teachers often expect less of students they perceive as academically marginal, or as more likely to occupy positions in the secondary tier of the labor market, or as less likely to pursue life-long careers in the labor market. It is also so in part because programs that cater to such students often lack the level of resources of other programs. Further, to the extent such programs appeal to lower socioeconomic students, they may also be perceived as a program for the poor. Programs that target poor individuals and families in the U.S. often lack the levels of bipartisan support and public resources as those that benefit broader socioeconomic segments of the population.

Background of Head Start and STW Programs

Created in 1965, Head Start seeks to enhance behavioral, emotional, and cognitive capacities of young children from economically disadvantaged families (Zigler & Muenchow, 1992). It still enjoys popular support and is up for renewal in 2003. Enacted in 1994, the School to Work Opportunities Act (STWOA) sought to provide all adolescents opportunities to earn transferable credits, to prepare for first jobs in high-skill careers, and to pursue further education (Harmon, 2000; Imel, n.d.). Federal funding for STWOA ceased as of January 3, 2002.

Head Start is perhaps one of the most extensively written about compensatory education programs in the U.S. Much of the related literature about its purpose, use, implementation, and effects are explored and summarized elsewhere (e. …