The Economics of Early Childhood Education – Chloe Gibbs

Broadly I study the economics of
education: how investments that we make in children’s lives generate short and
long term outcomes, so sort of what’s the return on the kinds of investments we
make. And in particular I’m interested in what those kinds of investments can do
to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We see, when children arrive
at kindergarten, pretty substantial gaps in their early skills based on families’
socioeconomic status, and also on race and ethnicity, so I’m interested in how
programs that we leverage in the early childhood years — so before kids arrive at
formal schooling — can help to redress some of those gaps. I think we have these
existence proofs that demonstrate, yes, these can work, but I think we don’t know
much about sort of why and for whom these investments work best.
We’ve moved full-day kindergarten from a targeted intervention, where we used to
provide it pretty pretty specifically to kids in disadvantaged schools and
districts, and we have then expanded it to really pretty much everyone. So now
the vast majority of kids experience a full day of kindergarten, and in doing
that one consequence has been that we’ve actually sort of widened achievement
gaps a little bit. And so I actually see that work as kind of informing this
broader conversation about whether we should target certain early childhood
investments or provide them universally and I think there’s a pretty rich debate
around that. What’s been interesting to me is to see that lots of things that we
try don’t actually work in the ways that we expect or for the kids for whom we
would expect it to work, and that’s the kind of thing we need to learn to be
able to inform policymakers, program providers, school district leaders, about
what they should be doing. The Department of Economics at Notre Dame is just a
vibrant and growing and wonderful place to be a researcher and I think that’s
because we have just a great group of people who are passionate about their
work. The questions I’m interested in align really with what the University is
trying to do more broadly, and that is pursue human flourishing, see everyone
reach their fullest potential. That sort of mission driven aspect
of being in a place like Notre Dame has been really helpful and sort of just
bolsters my enthusiasm for my work and feeling like I’m in the right place to
do that kind of work. And then my affiliation with the Wilson Sheehan Lab
for Economic Opportunities has also been a really great conduit for finding
partners who are interested in these kinds of questions. So social service
providers and school districts and state policymakers have heard of LEO, they
certainly know Notre Dame, and so it helps to build the kinds of partnerships
that help make this work happen.

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