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Reducing Behavior Problems in Head Start, Focus of Steinhardt Study

April 8, 2009
N-401, 2008-2009

A major component of President Barack Obama’s education reform plan is increased funding for Head Start, the federally financed health and education program for low-income children and families. Now, a new research study suggests that an intervention that provides teacher training, coaching, and mental health consultation in Head Start preschools increases children’s readiness for school by reducing the number of their behavioral problems.

The study, the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP), was led by C. Cybele Raver, associate professor of applied psychology at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and director of NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change. Raver collaborated with researchers from Loyola University and Harvard.

The Project was driven by evidence that young children in poor neighborhoods are at greater risk for developing emotional and behavioral problems, due to the social and psychological stressors of poverty. These factors are linked to children’s lower readiness for school. While previous studies have shown that classroom interventions can help reduce older children’s behavioral problems once they are in elementary school, it was unclear whether an intervention targeting low-income children in urban preschools would have a similar effect. The CSRP was intended to address this question.

According to Raver, “the project offered a remarkable opportunity to pursue twin aims: From a theoretical perspective, how much do children’s emotional and behavioral development matter for their later academic outcomes? Second, on the clinical and policy side, we asked: What concrete steps can early education settings such as Head Start programs take, to support children’s adjustment and to lower their behavioral risks over time?”

The study introduced a series of programmatic components to 35 Head Start classrooms in seven high-poverty neighborhoods in Chicago. The components included training Head Start teachers in classroom management; introducing a mental health consultant who supported teachers and conducted stress reduction workshops; and offering mental health consultation for select children.

Researchers studied two cohorts of children for one year, with Head Start classrooms randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Survey methods in addition to observational methods were employed to assess children’s behavioral problems (such as their sad, withdrawn, aggressive, and disruptive classroom behaviors).

After examining the data, Raver and her team concluded that the multi-component intervention yielded statistically significant reductions in the number of behavioral problems among Head Start children. Children in the treatment group showed fewer signs of sadness and withdrawal than in the control group, as well as fewer instances of aggressive and disruptive behavior.

“Using the ‘gold standard’ in prevention science,” Raver said, “we are able to show that Head Start programs can take a set of clear, concrete steps to support teachers’ ability to effectively manage their classrooms. This research demonstrates that an intervention that helps preschool teachers to support children’s self-regulation can substantially benefit children’s mental health in meaningful and significant ways.”

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

For more information, a copy of the study, or to schedule an interview with C. Cybele Raver, please contact Tim Farrell, 212.998.6796 or tim.farrell@nyu.edu.

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Research, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Type: Press Release


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