Early Childhood Education

  • Can a quality preschool experience help to narrow the achievement gaps that plagues our society? This question has been a subject of contention between researchers and policymakers for over five decades. The Institute began its work in early childhood by trying to help answer this question, working to bridge the historic divide among early childhood researchers, advocates, and practitioners, on the one hand, and their counterparts in K-12 education on the other.

    In February 2001, we convened a successful off-the-record seminar for leaders in the early childhood and public school communities about their common interest in supporting a dramatic expansion and improvement of educational opportunities in early childhood. A central topic was whether advocates of early childhood care and early childhood education could be brought together around a few key principles, framed by advances in cognitive research.This was soon followed by an Institute-sponsored study trip to France to examine that country’s universal system of crèches and ecole maternelles, or government nurseries and public preschools, which serve children from the ages of 3 months to 3 years, respectively.

    Since that time, the Institute has hosted many more meetings and seminars, sponsored research and publications, and worked to develop resources and tranings to help support the important work of early childhood educators.

    In general, there are two ways for social policy to affect educational outcomes for preschool-aged children who live in poverty: the first is to improve the social and economic condition of their families; the second is to use a preschool or daycare setting to compensate for these conditions.  While the first option would be more direct -- and many would argue more effective and long lasting -- it is also more difficult and unlikely. Thus, the Institute's continuing work is to focus on the national consensus in favor of equal educational opportunity to ensure that all children are able to begin school on a more equal footing.

  • Eugenia Kemble Research Grants

    In honor of its founding executive director, the Albert Shanker Institute announces the creation of the “Eugenia Kemble Research Grants Program.” Tax-deductible donations to this program are welcome. Please make donations through PayPal or by check to the Albert Shanker Institute (555 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001). More information. Watch the Memorial Service.

  • Publications Order Form

    Use this form to order hard copies of any publication. All copies are free unless otherwise indicated.
  • Video: Let's Talk

    This 5-minute video, a part of the Institute’s Let’s Talk initiative, explains how children’s knowledge and language develop in tandem, forming the foundation for all subsequent learning, and what parents and caregivers can do to help.

  • Let’s Talk Foundations: Oral Language Development I

    Oral language—listening and talking—is the primary means by which young children learn about and interact with the world. This training module for early childhood educators offers simple but powerful ideas to support young children build the skills, knowledge, vocabulary, and attitudes that can help prepare them for future academic learning across the content areas. Here, we offer excerpted materials for a workshop on supporting English language learners.

  • Let's Talk PD: Early Literacy Development

    This module for early childhood educators presents an overview of research on the foundations for literacy and how they may be enhanced in early childhood, including applied information to help guide instructional improvement. The materials are designed to be presented as an intensive one-day seminar or can be broken into separate workshops covering the areas of print and book awareness, phonological awareness, letter knowledge and early word recognition, and written expression and curriculum integration. This excerpt includes materials for a professional development workshop on phonological awareness.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Mathematics Development

    This training module for early childhood educators provides an overview of the research and standards on age-appropriate mathematics development, including practical takeaway materials to help assist in instructional. The most important early childhood mathematical foundations are addressed, including numerical sense and problem solving, building math vocabulary, using math manipulatives, and curriculum integration. The materials may be presented as a very intensive one-day session or broken into separate workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on curriculum integration.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Science Development

    This module for early childhood educators provides research-based information on early science development in the three key areas of physical science, life science, and earth science, along with applied information for improving instruction in each area. These materials can be implemented as an intensive, day-long professional development seminar or broken up into a series of workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on life science.

  • How Relationships Matter In Educational Improvement

    This short video explains some shortcomings of mainstream education reform and offers an alternative framework to advance educational progress. Educational improvement is as much about the capacities of individuals as it is about their relationships and the broader social context.

  • Literacy Ladders

    This curated collection of essays for early childhood educators and others examines the research on increasing young children's language, knowledge, and reading comprehension.

  • Measuring School Settings: The Preschool Educational Environment Rating System

    The Preschool Educational Environment Rating System (PEERS), designed for practitioners and administrators, is a method for examining the quality of instruction in preschool settings. Unlike most other rating scales, it not only measures the environment, but also it examines how teachers construct classroom instruction and the quality of the enactment of instruction.

     

  • Whose Knowledge Matters in Literacy Instruction?

    Our guest author today is Dr. Courtney Hattan. Dr. Hattan is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Literacy Education in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University.

    Knowledge is inarguably crucial for reading comprehension. What students know, including their academic knowledge and personal experiences, will influence what they understand and remember from texts. Therefore, recent efforts that call for building students’ knowledge base during elementary literacy instruction are important. Attention to knowledge-building enriches the conversation about reading science and helps bridge the research-to-practice gap. However, what’s missing from some of these conversations is a consideration of whose knowledge matters and what perspectives should be centered in the texts that students read.

    In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop stated that students need to read texts that serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Windows expose students to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, while the sliding glass doors provide opportunities for students to be immersed in those new worlds and perspectives. Mirrors allow students to see their language practices, histories, and values represented in the characters and experiences that are communicated through texts. Providing students with multiple perspectives allows them to consider various points of view, grapple with potentially conflicting information, and draw conclusions about what they believe to be true.  

    I would therefore encourage educators to consider whose knowledge is valued in school settings. Are students only exposed to books that are designed to maintain dominant authorities or power structures? Or are they also exposed to the voices of people who come from historically minoritized communities? These questions are especially important in light of a recent study by Rigell and colleagues, which found that one knowledge-building curriculum centers whiteness in its text selections and instructional supports. Given the value of providing all students with both windows and mirrors, educators would do well to interrogate the texts and curricula they put in front of students. This can help ensure that all students have opportunities to read texts that amplify the experiences, joy, and valued knowledge of people who come from historically minoritized communities. We can shift the canon of texts and ideas that are typically shared with students.

  • From Circletime to Civics: Involve our Youngest Learners in Civic Engagement

    Early childhood classrooms are a surprising yet ideal site for introducing meaningful civic engagement. Schools, particularly preschools, are often the first institutions where children must work alongside others, beyond the members of their families and their immediate circles. With the somewhat shocking change that entering a school environment brings, there is also the opportunity to introduce and practice good civic skills. Think about it, at the blocks center, children begin to develop their negotiating and compromising skills for a limited set of resources. At dramatic play, children navigate competing interests, advocate for themselves and their ideas, and navigate big emotions as they are experienced when they don't get their way. Do these skills sound like they should be applicable outside the classroom? I hope they do, because they are the foundational skills for engaging in civil discourse and participating in the democratic process. This is more than just voting on what to name the classroom pet fish—democracy, in its purest and most beautiful form, is woven deep within the seemingly mundane play interactions children engage in and teacher-supported instruction. Too often, we observe children developing these skills without giving the experience the acknowledgment it deserves: lived experiences that cultivate civic capabilities and a developmentally appropriate understanding of equity. These skills, and the acknowledgment of these skills, are more critical now than ever.

  • Banning of our "Beloved" Books: A Call for Continued Conversation and Action

    It’s that bittersweet time of the year when my much-beloved copy of Beloved by Toni Morrison returns to its spot on my bookshelf. Beloved and I have had this routine since the 2011 National Book Festival. I am inspired to pick it up and read it, as an act of thanks for the opportunity to explore humanity beyond my own experiences, only to promptly return it to its rightful spot on the bookshelf upon completion. While the topics explored in this text were initially uncomfortable when I was first introduced to them in high school, I have come to find great comfort in this routine. This year, however, felt different and unsettling in ways that provided no comfort in completing my annual tradition. I knew that pulling my copy of Beloved from my shelf wasn’t going to be enough to make up for the fact that it, along with hundreds of other books, have been pulled from library shelves all over the United States, uncertain of when, or if, they will ever return.

  • Reimagining Teacher Mentoring Programs: A Key to Solving the Teacher Shortage

    It is officially that time again. The time when teachers start returning to their classrooms for another school year. For an estimated 310,000 teachers (Perry-Graves, 2022), this will be their first time in the classroom, and back to school also means meeting their assigned mentor. Most districts use a formal mentoring program in which districts place new teachers with veteran colleagues. While many believe that mentors are only responsible for providing feedback on their mentee’s classroom instruction, the mentor’s role is much more complex. A good mentor can be an essential resource for helping novice teachers navigate the hidden curriculum of their new workspace, find a sustainable work/life balance, juggle the countless demands of the profession, and rely upon a consistent sounding board for what is sure to be a rollercoaster of a year.

    As a former teacher, I was lucky enough to have an active and caring mentor during my first year of teaching, and was able to model those relationships as I moved from mentee to mentor later in my career. My mentor and my mentees were all good matches for my personality, and we were able to establish strong relationships through shared goals and reciprocal trust. But I know my experience might be an outlier, as the effectiveness of mentoring programs is often questioned. Given these concerns, I have identified several interconnected areas that need further consideration to improve the mentoring experience for novice teachers.

  • The Ongoing Journey to Equitable Practices

    Guest authors Allie Tompkins, Marie Collins, Bryan Mascio, and Beth Fournaf share efforts to balance the need to address concerns about equity and social justice in their schools and the need to engage in difficult conversations with colleagues, students, families, and the broader community.

    Introduction
    While education has been the site of many contentious battles throughout history, the last year has been rife with conflict around public school curriculum, including how issues of race, gender, and sexuality are discussed, or in some cases, silenced. These and other topics often referred to broadly as "divisive concepts" have been particularly polarizing among politicians and parents, and within school walls (The New York Times, November, 2021). As a result, educational leaders are in a challenging position: balancing the urgent need to address concerns about equity and social justice in their schools and the need to be prepared to engage in difficult conversations with colleagues, students, families, and the broader community.

    In this article, the authors share our efforts to balance these concerns in our work with early career educators teaching in K-12 public schools. We share our experiences with these individuals in a rural teacher preparation program in the northeastern United States. The program focuses on building teacher capacity in high-need rural schools by preparing new teachers over the course of a 15-month graduate program, which included a full-year teaching residency alongside an experienced mentor.

  • Let’s Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by Acknowledging and Repairing A VERY Broken System

    Each May, as the school year winds down, districts across the country will soon celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. In previous years, receiving doughnuts, gift cards, and T-shirts was a nice way to end the school year. One could even laugh at the less than stellar tokens of appreciation, like the mini box of raisins with a sticker that exclaimed “thank you for ‘raisin’ student achievement.” But, amid COVID-19 and a host of new challenges that are facing educators, this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week may function as a going away party for many teachers who will soon leave the profession.

    That unfortunate reality of rising teacher burnout has serious consequences across the education system and requires greater attention to reverse this alarming trend. To put a number on this problem, a recent report found that 55% of teachers will leave the profession sooner than they had planned, and a staggering 90% are suffering from burnout (Kamenetz, 2022). I am one of these statistics. After years of suffering from burnout, I finally hit my breaking point — a persistent eye twitch induced by stress — and left the profession. After walking out of my classroom, I raced straight ahead to do as much research as possible on teacher burnout because I love the profession, and I know we must improve it for educators. 

  • It Takes a Community to Raise a Reader

    The relationship between family engagement and literacy development is often a one-sided story. Researchers regularly inform us that familial involvement in a child’s reading is vital to emergent literacy. However, we seldom hear about the differences and complexities in resources, time, language, and strategies that influence family engagement. We know that being involved in reading activities at home has a positive impact on reading achievement, language comprehension, expressive language skills, interest in reading, and attitudes towards reading for children throughout their educational careers (Clark, 2007). Yet, many families would benefit from knowing more about how to support their child’s literacy development. Thus, it is important for schools and families to build partnerships that strengthen at-home literacy. To this end, schools must actively reach out to families and equip them with the necessary tools to support their children’s literacy development.

  • Massachusetts: A Systems Approach To Improving Reading

    Guest author Heather Peske, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Senior Associate Commissioner for Instructional Support and the incoming President of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), discusses Massachusetts’ new systems approach to improving reading outcomes for students across the state.

    In Massachusetts today, despite our status as the highest performing state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about half (45%) of our fourth grade students demonstrated proficiency on the 2019 NAEP reading assessment. Disparities persist in achievement among racial groups, with only about a quarter of Black (24%) and Latino (25%) fourth graders reaching proficient levels on NAEP Reading, compared to 54% of white fourth graders. These gaps represent opportunity gaps where we as a system have failed to provide students with access to the instruction and support they need to learn to read. And the data could lead to excruciating consequences, both for our students and for us as a democratic society that depends on engaged and informed citizens to thrive.

    The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has embarked on a systems approach to change reading instruction across our state and to change outcomes for students. It is our responsibility and privilege to serve more than 900,000 students and to partner with 75,000 educators and 70 educator preparation programs to impact reading instruction from Boston to the Berkshires, and every city and town in between.[1] Individuals cannot do this alone. We must approach this as a system to create the conditions within districts, schools and higher education so students successfully learn to read.

  • Reading Opens The World

    Our guest author today is Evelyn DeJesus, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and a member of the board of directors of the Albert Shanker Institute.

    Today I am going to be talking about a topic that is very close to my heart, reading instruction and literacy—the bedrock, the deepest foundation for what we do as educators. And I’ll also talk a bit about the AFT’s new, multimillion dollar, multi-year literacy campaign, Reading Opens the World

    Literacy Instruction and the Science of Reading

    Because strong reading and comprehension skills underlie everything else that we do in the classroom, the AFT has been “all in” on literacy for more than two decades. As President Randi Weingarten reminded us in her opening speech at TEACH last summer, “Over 20 years ago, the AFT first identified the need for educators—whatever their subject or level—to know more about research-based literacy.