Video: Chloe Gibbs on the economics of early childhood education

Author: Todd Boruff


“Now, the vast majority of kids experience a full day of kindergarten, and in doing that, one consequence has been that we've actually widened achievement gaps.” 

— Chloe Gibbs

Chloe Gibbs is an assistant professor of economics and faculty affiliate of the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests include applied microeconomics and labor economics. More information can be found on her faculty page.

Video Transcript

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 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.