Preschool composition and peer effects – evidence from Germany, England and Norway
The working group examines the patterns and outcomes of peer group composition in center‐based early childhood education in three European countries. The contributions focus on patterns of child distribution across preschools in relation to different socioeconomic, ethnic as well as social‐emotional characteristics and relate them to different cognitive and social‐emotional child outcomes. Two presentations look at segregation in the German early childhood education systems nation‐wide and locally, respectively. This national perspective is widened by two studies analyzing the role of preschool composition and peer‐group contexts in England and Norway. Regarding child outcomes, the working group addresses language skills and overall academic skills at school entry as well as child physical aggression in preschool.
Presentations of the Symposium
Peers in ECEC settings in Germany: who are they?
There is a large body of evidence showing that children make more progress in preschools where interactions between adults and children are warm, stimulating and responsive. However, children do not interact with practitioners alone: they spend much time interacting with each other. Thus a child’s peer group might be considered a crucial factor affecting their ECEC experience.
There is evidence from different countries that ECEC group composition matters to process quality and children’s outcomes (e.g. Schechter & Bye 2007; Sylva et al. 2004). Findings from Germany show that not only process quality is lower in classrooms with a higher proportion of children with migration background (Tietze et al. 2013), but also that children's vocabulary tends to grow slower in classes with a higher ratio of children with migration background (Ebert et al. 2013). Yet we do not have a clear picture of how children are distributed across different settings.
This presentation will provide evidence on the extent of clustering in ECEC settings in Germany. It will describe how likely a child with migration background is to be enrolled in a setting that caters predominantly for other children with migration background, where ‘predominantly’ will be measured using a range of different thresholds. The population composition of the area where the child lives will also be taken into account. The results give a precise nation-wide picture of the degree of separation experienced by different children.
Preschool composition and peer effects in Germany: The consequences of risk concentration in daycare centres for children's language skills at school entry
Research on context effects demonstrates that the social and ethnic composition of classes and schools exerts an independent influence on children’s cognitive skills (Thrupp, Lauder & Robinson 2002). These studies focus on the ethnic background or socioeconomic status as relevant contextual factors. More recently, Fantuzzo, LeBoeuf and Rouse (2014) showed that student risk factors such as preterm birth, low birth weight or inadequate parental care are more important than student demographics relating to migration or income. Research on composition effects in early childhood education is still scarce and inconsistent (e. g. Justice et al. 2011; Mashburn et al. 2009; Reid & Ready 2013). Children’s risk factors that have shown to be important in the school context have not been included in context studies in early childhood education.
This study in one German municipality explores if the proportion of at-risk children in daycare settings affects the language skills of all children and, if so, which composition factors are decisive. Data are taken from the school entry examination from 2010/11 to 2015/2016 (n = 7,604) and from a local survey of pre-schools (n = 84). Our results indicate that risk constellations concentrate in certain preschools. After controlling for an extensive set of individual and institutional covariates, our findings point to cut-off points where negative impacts show up.
Low-income children, preschool peer groups, and early child development in England: what can the National Pupil Database tell us?
Since 2004, all children in England have been entitled to a part-time early education place from the age of three. A central aim of this policy is to help narrow gaps in child development, ensuring a more equal starting point at school entry. The positive impact of early provision depends upon many factors including the peers with whom a child interacts (Burchinal et al. 2009; Sylva et al. 2004). Evidence from the US suggests that low-income children who attend preschools with peers from a range of backgrounds make more progress than those attending settings only with others also from low-income families (Henry & Rickman 2007; Mashburn et al. 2009; Schechter & Bye 2007). Similar peer effects may operate in England. In a fragmented market of providers settings vary in opening times, costs for hours above the free entitlement, and age groups attending. ‘Choice’ of pre-school therefore depends on parental employment and income, meaning that children may be clustered in settings with others from similar backgrounds (Stewart et al. 2014).
This paper uses one cohort of children in the National Pupil Database, a complete census of all children in the public education system in England, to examine the association between pre-school peer group and a measure of child development in the first year in school (teacher-assessed Foundation Stage Profile scores). We find very limited evidence for the existence of peer effects in the English context, and discuss potential reasons.
Peer effects on child aggression in Norwegian child care centers
With the majority of children in western societies now attending some form of child care prior to school entry, concerns remain about negative behavioral consequences of early group care (Dearing & Zachrisson, 2017). Peer influences form an essential part of children’s social development, playing an important role in the development of social competence and adjustment (Hanish, Martin, Fabes, Leonard, & Herzog, 2005; DeRosier, Cillessen, Coi, & Dodge, 1994).
Few studies have focused on the importance of peers for child aggression in the preschool years. The aim of this study is to assess whether changes in peer aggression predicted changes in child physical aggression in preschool children attending Norwegian ECEC centers. Data from the Behavior Outlook Norwegian Developmental Study (BONDS) were used, including 956 children. Changes in peer aggression predicted changes in child physical aggression across ages 2, 3 and 4. Belonging to a peer group with two or more externalizing children increased child physical aggression over time, especially for boys.
These findings support the contagion hypothesis suggesting that the impact of aggressive behavior on processes of peer socialization by close peers is already evident in the earliest peer relationships (Eivers, Brendgen, Vitaro, & Borge, 2012). Implications for researchers and policy makers are discussed with regards to the importance of avoiding the congregation of several problematic children in the same ECEC group.