Zhang, who is advised by Assistant Professor Jade Jenkins and Distinguished Professor George Farkas, is specializing in Educational Policy and Social Context (EPSC). Her research interests include early childhood education, education policy, and program evaluation.
Zhang's dissertation consists of three interconnected studies that address three timely issues regarding the implementation of early childhood education (ECE) programs at scale. She is using large-scale longitudinal data and causally-driven methods to evaluate the policy, program, and peer environments that jointly shape the development of children during early childhood and beyond. Specifically, she is examining (1) the impact of state pre-kindergarten programs on the ECE delivery system, focusing on its impact on Head Start, (2) the effects of competition in the ECE market on program quality and medium-term student outcomes, and (3) the peer effects of preschool attendance – the effects of having peers who went to preschool in one’s junior high school classroom on student cognitive and noncognitive outcomes.