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.

  • Zombie Education Reform

    Event Date

    Zombie Education Reform: Without A Meaningful Base in Research Evidence, Can Support for Online Charters and Education Vouchers be Sustained? Sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers. Speakers: Brian Gill, Senior Fellow, Mathematica; John Jackson, President and CEO, Schott Foundation for Public Education; Christopher Lubienski, Professor of Education Policy, Indiana University; Fellow, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado, Macke Raymond, founder and director, Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), Stanford University. Watch the video.

  • Early Childhood Education: The Word Gap & the Common Core

    Event Date
    Given states’ difficulties in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) thoughtfully, many early childhood educators have begun to worry about what the NAEYC refers to as “a downward pressure of increased academic focus and more narrowed instructional approaches.”
  • Teaching: Art, Craft, or Science?

    Event Date
    Teaching: Art, Craft, or Science? In the modern era, the debates over teaching have increasingly focused on views that have seen teaching as an art, a craft or a science – different ways of conceiving of the intersection of knowledge and practice. Our panelists include education scholars with rich bodies of research in support of different conceptions, and educational practitioners who have reflected deeply on the meaning of their own teaching practice. Watch the video here.
  • The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?

    Event Date
    What are the implications of the results of the 2018 election for American education, in Washington D.C,. in state capitols and in the nation’s schools and classrooms? From a variety of perspectives ranging from political actor to scholar, our panelists will address this question. Speakers: Domingo Morel assistant professor, political science, Rutgers University; visiting scholar, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University; Michael Petrilli, president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; research fellow, Stanford University's Hoover Institution; executive editor, Education Next; distinguished senior fellow, Education Commission of the States; Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker Institute. Moderator: Michelle Ringuette, assistant to the president for labor, government & political affairs, American Federation of Teachers. Watch the video.
  • Puerto Rico: The Road to Recovery and Reconstruction

    Event Date

    Puerto Rico: The Road to Recovery and Reconstruction (#rebuildPR), March 1, 2018, co-sponsored by Albert Shanker Institute, American Federation of Teachers and Hispanic Federation. With the future of Puerto Rico hanging in the balance, this national conference focused on what needs to be done to rebuild the Puerto Rican economy and its educational system in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.  Watch the video.

     

  • School Integration By Race & Class: A Movement Reborn?

    Event Date

    In recent years there have been signs of a resurgent grassroots movement to integrate schools. From a variety of perspectives, our panelists examined the state of segregation by race and class in America’s schools, and the promising initiatives and practices that are emerging in the renewed movement to integrate America’s schools. Watch the video.

  • 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.

     

  • All You Need Is Love (In The Time Of COVID-19)

    This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

    I know this is a strange title at a time of crisis. But as the Beatles would say, “There’s nothing you can do that can't be done,” and with that spirit in mind, sometimes a crisis, or in this case, crises can give us a fresh perspective, a new way of thinking about an old topic.

    The topic I refer to is reading, which is the subject of an excellent series of articles in the American Educator, the AFT’s magazine. In this series there are articles about the importance of educator knowledge, choosing the right texts for children to read, building background knowledge, bilingualism, and the research base of reading. All important topics. And all related to what is now described as the “science of reading.” The notion is that if we teach the right skills, at the right time, and give children the right books in the right language, then children will read and achieve, right?

    I wish it were so. But after years of pendulum-shifting this way and that way, from skills-based, whole language, scientifically-based, balanced, and now the science of reading, we have made strikingly little progress in closing the reading gap, particularly for those come from economically distressed communities. Today, our children are in more danger of learning loss than ever before, and with the understanding that “nothing you can make that can’t be made,” it’s time to consider a fresh perspective about reading.

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Where Al Shanker Stood: The Problem of Student Mobility

    In this New York Times piece, published on January 13, 1991, Al Shanker discusses the persistent problem of student mobility, how it disrupts children's lives and educational prospects, and what schools and school systems might do to help.

    Once upon a time, people talked about student achievement in terms of the kids' responsibility for what they leaned. Some youngsters were smart, and others were dummies. Some worked hard; some were lazy. Nowadays, we've discarded these crude yardsticks because we understand that many things can influence a child's success in school. But we've substituted something just as crude. I mean the notion of accountability that makes schools totally responsible for student learning.

    Of course, people have the right—the responsibility—to find out whether schools are doing a good job. And they have the right to call for the changes that are needed. But people should also understand that schools face some big problems over which they have no control.

    Take the problem of student mobility, especially among poor children in urban school systems. Every year between September and June, an enormous number of students transfer in and out of these schools, often because their families are in a state of collapse or because they've lost their current housing and have to find somewhere else to live. A recent Wall Street Journal article (November 14, 1990) about the Rochester, NY, schools says that in 1987 annual student mobility—that is, the number of student transfers in relation to the entire student population—reached 64 percent. In one elementary school, it was 100 percent. And if this is true in Rochester, there's no question that something like it goes on in other urban school systems. What does it mean for teaching and learning in these schools?

  • Student Discipline, Race And Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools

    At a recent press conference, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz addressed the issue of student discipline. “It is horrifying,” she told reporters, that critics of her charter schools’ high suspension rates don’t realize “that five-year-olds do some pretty violent things.” Moskowitz then pivoted to her displeasure with student discipline in New York City (NYC) public schools, asserting that disorder and disrespect have become rampant.

    This is not the first time Moskowitz has taken aim at the city’s student discipline policies. Last spring, she used the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to criticize the efforts of Mayor Bill De Blasio and the NYC Department of Education to reform the student code of conduct and schools’ disciplinary procedures. Indeed, caustic commentary on student behavior and public school policy has become something of a trademark for Moskowitz.

    The National Move to Reform Student Discipline Practices

    To understand why, it is important to provide some context. The New York City public school policies that Moskowitz derides are part of a national reform effort, inspired by a body of research showing that overly punitive disciplinary policies are ineffective and discriminatory. Based on this research evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and School Discipline Consensus Project of the Council of State Governments have all gone on record on the harmful effects of employing such policies. The U.S. Education Department, the U.S. Justice Department, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, consortia of researchers, national foundations, and the Dignity in Schools advocacy coalition have all examined the state of student discipline in America’s schools in light of this research.1

  • Onboard The Early Childhood Express Train, But Let’s Shift Tracks

    Our guest author today is Emma Gulley, a preschool teacher and current Master’s student at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where she studies early childhood language acquisition.

    Government-funded early childhood education works. It works for students as they learn academic as well as social-emotional skills. It works for low income and middle class families, who can leave their children in trusted and closely monitored learning environments, rather than in less regulated day care arrangements. It works for school districts that can now, with effective early childhood education in place, avoid expensive early intervention programs, since more students are arriving at school “ready to learn.”

    And it works for the United States broadly, since, according to a recent White House press release, investments in high quality childhood education provide benefits to society of about $8.60 for every $1.00 spent. Why is it, then, that 30 percent of Americans do not favor using federal funds to expand universal preschool? Why do only 39 percent consider preschool to be extremely important, while 69 percent think high school is extremely important?

    If we want increased support for federal funding of early childhood education we need to provide more clarity regarding: A) what actually happens in the early childhood classroom; B) what improved school readiness means for students’ future success; and C) how that $8.60 benefit is calculated and what constitutes those long-term benefits to society. That is to say, abstract statistics are powerful, but they may not be sufficient or salient enough to convince everybody that early childhood education is about more than just finger paint.

  • Knowledge For Literacy

    Our guest author today is Marilyn Jager Adams, a visiting scholar in the Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Department of Brown University. Marilyn is internationally regarded for her research and applied work in cognition and education, including the seminal text Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. This post is adapted from Literacy Ladders, our anthology of articles on early childhood literacy learning.

    The very purpose and promise of schooling is to prepare students for responsible adult lives—to be civically minded and informed, to pursue higher education, and to find gainful work that allows them to grow and contribute to society. To accomplish this, students must be given ample support and practice in reading, interpreting, and writing about texts as complex as those that characterize life beyond high school. But here lies our great dilemma. Increasing the sophistication of assigned texts, all by itself, is unlikely to do much good. After all, we know that many students are unable to understand such rigorous texts, and nobody learns from texts that they cannot understand.

    What this means is that we, as educators, need figure out how to help raise our students’ language and literacy skills to levels that enable them to understand and gain from complex texts. Working with the Albert Shanker Institute, the American Federation of Teachers, and Core Knowledge Foundation, I recently helped produce an anthology of research essays — Literacy Ladders — that addresses this challenge. Below are a couple of the key takeaways.

  • Feeling Socially Connected Fuels Intrinsic Motivation And Engagement

    Our "social side of education reform" series has emphasized that teaching is a cooperative endeavor, and as such is deeply influenced by the quality of a school's social environment -- i.e., trusting relationships, teamwork and cooperation. But what about learning? To what extent are dispositions such as motivation, persistence and engagement mediated by relationships and the social-relational context?

    This is, of course, a very complex question, which can't be addressed comprehensively here. But I would like to discuss three papers that provide some important answers. In terms of our "social side" theme, the studies I will highlight suggest that efforts to improve learning should include and leverage social-relational processes, such as how learners perceive (and relate to) -- how they think they fit into -- their social contexts. Finally, this research, particularly the last paper, suggests that translating this knowledge into policy may be less about top down, prescriptive regulations and more about what Stanford psychologist Gregory M. Walton has called "wise interventions" -- i.e., small but precise strategies that target recursive processes (more below).

    The first paper, by Lucas P. Butler and Gregory M. Walton (2013), describes the results of two experiments testing whether the perceived collaborative nature of an activity that was done individually would cause greater enjoyment of and persistence on that activity among preschoolers.

  • Not All Discipline Disparities May Be The Result Of Implicit Bias

    Over the past few months, we have heard a lot about discipline disparities by race/ethnicity and gender -- disparities that begin in the earliest years of schooling. According to the Civil Rights Data Collection Project by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, "black students represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 42% of preschool students suspended once and 48% of students suspended more than once." It also found that "boys receive more than three out of four out-of-school preschool suspensions."

    This focus on student discipline disparities has also drawn attention to the research on implicit bias -- the idea that we all harbor unconscious attitudes that tend to favor individuals from some groups (whites, males, those judged to be good looking, etc.), and that disadvantage people from other groups (people of color, women, ethnic minorities, etc.). The concept of implicit bias suggests that good or bad behavior is often in the eye of the beholder, and disparities in disciplinary outcomes (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) may be influenced by unconscious stereotypes.

    Part of me is very glad that we are finally having this conversation. Acknowledging the existence and consequences of subtle, implicit forms of prejudice is an important and necessary first step toward mitigating their effects and advancing toward fairness -- see my implicit bias series here. But it sometimes seems that the discipline and the implicit bias conversations are one and the same, and this concerns me for two reasons.

  • Challenging Content In The Early Grades: What's Not To Love?

    The latest issue of The Progress of Education Reform (released a few days ago by the Education Commission of the States) rounds up some recent research supporting the case that "all children need high quality early science learning experiences" and "science supports children's learning and school readiness in other areas" -- see here. The brief argues that even though science has not traditionally received the attention afforded to other preschool domains, such as literacy and mathematics, "science content and skills are critical and do not detract from literacy development; "in fact, [science] contributes to the goal that all children read with understanding by grade 3."

    These statements should come as no surprise. At the Institute, we have long advocated teaching rich, challenging content (including in English language arts, math and science) in the early years. Knowledge, which is what's underneath words and vocabulary, is the foundation for acquiring more knowledge; it's what allows us to read with understanding -- or read to learn. This is important because it means that we must focus on teaching children about a wide range of interesting “stuff” – including, as the ECS report argues, early science. As I wrote elsewhere:

    It's important to start teaching knowledge in the early years and through oral language because children’s preexisting knowledge creates a framework that facilitates the acquisition of new information; knowing more words and concepts scaffolds children’s ability to slot novel information in the “right places," and to learn related words and concepts more efficiently.
  • Can Early Language Development Promote Children's Psychological Wellbeing?

    We know oral language is young children's door into the world of knowledge and ideas, the foundation for reading, and the bedrock of all academic learning. But, can language also protect young kids against behavioral problems?

    A number of studies have identified a co-occurrence of language delays and behavioral maladjustment, an association that remains after controlling for socio-demographic characteristics and academic achievement (here and here). However, most research on the issue has been cross-sectional and correlational making it hard to establish whether behavioral issues cause language delays, language delays cause behavioral issues, or another factor is responsible for both.

    A recent paper by Marc Bornstein, Chun-Shin Hahn, and Joan Suwalsky (2013) was able to shed some light on these questions concluding that "language competencies in early childhood keep behavioral adjustment problems at bay." This is important given the fact that minority children raised in poverty tend to have smaller than average vocabularies and are also overrepresented in pre-K expulsions and suspensions.