What is This HIPPY Business?

Many viewers of Bill Clinton’s DNC speech on Tuesday likely wondered: “What is this HIPPY business?” Politico claims the organization received its own version of a convention bounce from his prime-time mention. While many early childhood education advocates know the program by its acronym, it’s relatively small in the U.S. — only serving 15,000 participants in 22 states and D.C.

HIPPY, which stands for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, is a home-visiting model of early childhood education which helps low-income families and parents of English language learners prepare their children for school through a language-rich home environment. The program was created in 1969 by researchers at Hebrew University who developed the program for immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East with little formal education. Through this model, peer educators provide weekly home visits to parents and use role-playing to teach effective and developmentally appropriate ways to talk and read to young children. Parents then use HIPPY materials to develop their children’s literacy and problem solving skills.

So how does HIPPY fit into the U.S.’s fragmented early childhood education landscape? Since only about half of the roughly 8.1 million three- and four-year-olds in the U.S. are enrolled in pre-k, (and most programs are low quality), the education children receive from their parents has a major impact on how ready they are for kindergarten.

HIPPY has long-term positive impacts for children who participate in the program. Independent research, including randomized controlled trials, shows that children ages three, four, and five who participate in HIPPY are more prepared for school and have better school-related behaviors, including higher attendance rates, self-esteem, and love of reading. Moreover, studies in four states found that higher reading, math, and social studies scores persisted into third, fifth, and sixth grades.

HIPPY has been particularly important in Arkansas, where it was introduced by Hillary Clinton in 1986, and other states with very rural communities — including Colorado and Texas. These rural communities often have few nearby pre-k programs and parents are isolated from resources. HIPPY has proven crucial in communities where children otherwise would have little formal schooling before Kindergarten.

There has been a growing momentum for universal pre-k in the United States. In fact, universal pre-k is one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign promises. Even if the U.S. finally provided universal pre-k to all three- and four-year-olds, HIPPY could still play an important role in an evolving U.S. early childhood education landscape.

In recent years, HIPPY and Head Start have recognized their shared goals and local grantees of each program have started to collaborate. Researchers have only just begun to explore the impact of these collaborative efforts. For example, a research study in Texas found that children who participated in Head Start and HIPPY scored “developed” on all sections of the Texas Primary Reading Inventory, whereas 33% of children who participated in only Head Start scored “developed.”

For now, HIPPY remains like most high-quality early childhood programs: a program delivering a tremendous impact for a select few. As a result of Bill Clinton’s speech, many more eyes will be watching to see what happens to the program after its convention bounce.