Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Carolyn F. Furlow - Chair

Second Advisor

Frances McCarty

Third Advisor

Ann C. Kruger

Fourth Advisor

Philo Hutcheson


What is the developmental trajectory of the skills that underlie emergent literacy during the preschool years? Are there individual characteristics which predict whether a child will be at-risk for difficulties in acquiring literacy skills? Does a child’s experience in a high-quality early care and education environment enhance the development of his or her emergent literacy? The present study is an investigation of the individual and environmental factors relevant to children’s emergent literacy skills as they unfold in time. Using a combination of principal components analysis, growth modeling with a multi-level approach, and propensity score analysis, the trajectories of growth in emergent literacy were examined. In addition to child characteristics, the effects of early child environments on emergent literacy were also examined. The effects of home literacy environment and of high-quality early care and education environments were investigated using propensity score matching techniques. The growth in emergent literacy was examined using a nationally representative dataset, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth cohort (ECLS-B). Child characteristics, such as primary home language and poverty, were associated with lower initial abilities and suppressed growth in emergent literacy. A high-quality home literacy environment had a strong effect on the growth of children’s emergent abilities, even after controlling for child characteristics. High-quality early care and education environments, as defined by structural attributes of the program such as class size, had a modest impact on the growth of emergent literacy skills for some but not all children. When high-quality early education was defined in terms of teacher interaction, children who are exposed to such care experienced an increase in growth of their emergent literacy abilities. This study provides an examination of individual and group paths toward literacy as an element of school readiness, including the role of environment in the development of literacy skills. These findings have implications for early education policy, especially relevant to state-funded preschool programs and Early Head Start, to provide insight into contexts in which policy and the investment of resources can contribute most effectively to early literacy development.