Evaluation of Families Forward Learning Center
Aug 3, 2020
An Assessment of Families Forward Learning Center in Pasadena, California
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Parents are their children's first teachers—therefore, children's and parents' well-being are inseparable. Two-generation learning programs are built on this premise. These programs aim to promote children's long-term success in school and in life by educating both parent and child together at a critical time of a child's life, between birth and five years old.
One such program, Families Forward Learning Center (FFLC), has served disadvantaged families in the Pasadena – Los Angeles area since 1961. FFLC aims to foster young children's social and cognitive development and prepare them for a successful transition to kindergarten, while helping their parents gain the skills and confidence needed to actively support their development and success. The program, previously known as Mothers' Club, currently serves mostly low-income, Latinx families. FFLC hosts a wide variety of targeted activities designed to increase child and parent knowledge, develop skills and resiliency, improve social networks, and increase access to other kinds of support, such as mental health counseling. FFLC sought help from RAND Corporation researchers to understand the effects of the program on participants after leaving the program. Specifically, the research team conducted a mixed-methods assessment to assess
This research brief summarizes some of the key findings of the study and several insights that should be of interest to other providers and stakeholders committed to improving or interested in two-generation early learning programs.
To understand participating mothers' perceptions of FFLC, the research team interviewed a randomly selected sample of 20 mothers from the five most- recent program cohorts (2013 through 2017) at the time of data collection. The research team identified common themes from completed interview responses.
Near- and longer-term student outcomes are based on data from 94 former FFLC students and a comparable peer group drawn from all 12,328 kindergarten students enrolled in the Pasadena Unified School District from 2010 to 2018. The peer group matched the program participants in terms of race or ethnicity, parental education level, and home language. All effects were derived using regression analysis. School attendance, chronic absenteeism, and suspension rates were estimated using school attendance and discipline records. Impacts on English language proficiency were estimated using 2010–2017 California English Language Development Test (CELDT) scores and 2018 English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) scores. Impacts on academic achievement were based on California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) scores. Methods for the study can be found in full in the main report.
Readers should be cautious of causal inferences when reviewing the results. The research team was unable to guarantee that FFLC students were comparable with their peers in ways that may influence the outcomes.
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"Now I have a job in which I'm constantly speaking in English and that's thanks to what I learned in the program. I've never had difficulty in making myself understood."
"I didn't know he was going to get all this inspiration and eagerness to learn."
Overall, the study suggests several positive short- and longer-term effects on educational outcomes for FFLC participants compared with demographically similar peers. The researchers could not measure all potential systematic differences between FFLC students and their peers, so, although findings are promising, they should be interpreted with caution. Here are some highlights.
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"I would work in the kitchen or in different classes—this helped me learn how to work as part of a group."
Overall, the study found that the FFLC program is achieving its goals of fostering parent and child education and general quality of life. Analyses also suggest several ways that the program can build on or maintain its positive momentum.
Fully understand and communicate all program benefits. Most mothers acknowledged unexpected benefits of the program, such as improved parenting skills for other caretakers (i.e., husbands and partners) and help getting access to such services as mental health care. Leaders of programs might consider ways to more fully communicate some of the benefits of their two-generation model to parents prior to their enrollment.
Hire staff who are professional but also fit in well with the culture. Most mothers noted how program staff created a welcoming and trusting environment, and how important it is for participants to feel like they are a part of a community. Mothers appreciated the holistic and flexible support that program staff provided, and that they could continue relying on program staff as a resource after they completed the program. Staff training and development should emphasize these characteristics.
Remember the importance of word-of-mouth. Nearly all mothers in the study were referred to the program by others who had participated or were currently doing so. Moreover, all program participants indicated that they would recommend the program to others with young children. Personal referrals appear to be an effective recruitment strategy for the program.
Continue to assess the implementation of program components. Further assessment will help FFLC leadership and team members to better understand which parts are working as expected and what other components could be strengthened to help achieve all program goals.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research brief series. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work.
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