A Stepping Stone Foundation Blog

Sleeper Benefits

I had a rather exciting call from a former Stepping Stone teacher yesterday.  She had received a visit from a former preschooler that was wishing she had more money to go to college.  Enter, or rather RE-enter, A Stepping Stone Foundation.


The teacher called me to be sure this student would qualify for our scholarship and after establishing that A Stepping Stone had funded this preschool during their family literacy years, I made a call to the student and sent her a Billie Gannaway Memorial Scholarship application.  Two thoughts came to mind as I digested this latest Stepping Stone synergy:


1) Recently, some people postulate that a fall-off effect of literacy intervention seems to occur by third grade, and if that is true, why do those interventions in the first place; isn’t it a wast of resources? To which I retort, “If your tetanus booster wears off, should you not get one at all?”  Surely we get our Tetanus shot because of the years it does work!

2) Some effects of quality early intervention may seem to not last or are not always discernible in the early years. In fact some observable benefits are not readily noted until high school and beyond.  That has been called a “sleeper effect”.


Please bear with me, as this has all the earmarks of a ramble!


There has been much talk of late about whether investments in high quality early education really payoff.  Much publicized results of a recent long-term study regarding Head Start suggests a fall-off of beneficial results by the third grade.  Interestingly, from preschool to third grade is about one national election cycle.  That is, if a child entered preschool in the fall of 2008 (prior Presidential election), they would have entered 3rd grade (all things being equal) this past fall 2012 (most recent national election).


High stakes testing in the third grade, especially in Arizona, make this 4-year bench mark even more important.  Many statisticians have touted 3rd grade reading as THE year that students should be reading on grade-level.  If they are not, so the statistics predict, they are at a VERY high risk of not completing high school.  Supposedly, even prison beds needed into the future are predicted by third grade reading results.


I wish to be as “data-driven” as the next professional, but let us look at as much data as possible over a time much longer than an election cycle.  In fact, it is quite beneficial to think minimally in generational cycles (20-25) years and as Dr. Rand Conger might assert, in mulit-generational cycles of at least 80 years.

(see Dr. Rand Conger present his work at Virginia G. Piper Trust)


Why do I write about all this today?  Enter the “Sleeper” benefit and one former Stepping Stone preschooler-lets call her Ana.


In fact, Ana, the very student mentioned in the first paragraph above, was in preschool in a presidential election year (2,000).  Now, not one, but THREE election cycles later, she resurfaces in her Senior year in High School wishing to attend college, but trying to find the means.  The sleeper effect refers to threads of interventions that seem to have a high impact upon certain groups of students that emerge over many year-perhaps decades–in this case at about high school through college-age.


I heartily propose, not only continuing early literacy intervention, but adding a booster at the third grade–just like we get our tetanus booster when it wears off!  Please, let us not throw the baby, or in this case the preschooler, out with the bathwater.  And, if there is a fall-off effect, perhaps it is not really falling off, but sleeping!