Early Childhood Education

  • The Role of Curriculum in Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Programs

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    This workshop session offered an overview of research on why the early acquisition of broad content knowledge is crucial to young children’s later academic success, and provides a guide so that the design, choice, and use of teacher training materials is improved by careful focus on content suitable for three and four year olds. The presenters discussed these findings and what they mean for the improvement of professional development programs for early childhood educators, and offered examples from four new research-based teacher training modules in the content domains of oral language development, early literacy, mathematics, and science.

  • Early Childhood Assessments: Problems & Possibilities

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    With increased support for and public investment in early childhood education programs, federal, state, and local authorities have begun to grapple with the need to assess student outcomes, for diagnostic, accountability and program improvement purposes. At the same time, critics continue to raise questions about the appropriateness, validity, and utility of assessments with very young children: How accurate is the data that’s being gathered through various methods and for what purposes can it legitimately be used? What can research tell us about how to design assessments for preschool children that are reasonable, reliable, valid, and useful for teachers and policymakers alike?

  • Education and Care for Children in their Preschool Years

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    This conference, involving participants with a wide range of viewpoints, was designed to elicit discussion about what the academic core of high-quality preschool programs should entail and how it should be delivered.

  • Valuing Home Languages Sets The Foundation For Early Learning

    Our guest author today is Candis Grover, the Literacy & Spanish Content Manager at ReadyRosie.com, an online resource that models interactive oral language development activities that parents and caregivers of young children can do to encourage learning.

    Many advocates, policymakers, and researchers now recognize that a strong start requires more than just a year of pre-K. Research shows that promoting children’s success starts with helping parents recognize the importance of loving interactions and “conversations” with their babies.
    The above statement, which is taken from a recent report, Subprime Learning: Early Education in America since the Great Recession, emphasizes the role of parents as the earliest investors in the academic success of their children. This same report states that more than one in five of these families speaks a primary language other than English, and that this statistic could reach 40 percent by 2030. Despite the magnitude of these numbers, the Subprime Learning report asserts that the research on dual language learners has been largely ignored by those developing early childhood education policies and programs.
  • More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood

    Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

    With all the chatter in 2013 (thanks in part to President Obama) about expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, I have high hopes for America’s children finally getting the strong foundation of knowledge and vocabulary they need to do well in—and enjoy—school.

    When children arrive in kindergarten with a broad vocabulary and a love of books, both of which come from being engaged in conversations with caregivers daily and being read to frequently, they are well prepared for learning to read and write. Just as important, their language comprehension makes learning through teacher read-alouds and conversations relatively easy. The narrower the children’s vocabulary and the fewer experiences they’ve had with books, the tougher the climb to come. Sadly, far too many children don’t make the climb; they mentally dropout in middle school, and are physically adrift soon thereafter.

  • How Much Do You Know About Early Oral Language Development?

    The following was written by Susan B. Neuman and Esther Quintero. Neuman is Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University.

    The topic of oral vocabulary instruction is affected by common myths, which have sometimes gotten in the way of promoting high quality teaching early on. While these myths often contain partial truths, recent evidence has called into question many of these notions.

    We've prepared this short quiz  for you -- take it and find out how much you know about this important issue. Read through the following statements and decide if they are myths that have been perpetuated about oral vocabulary development or if they are facts (or key principles) about the characteristics of high quality vocabulary instruction. Download Dispelling Myths and Reinforcing Facts About Early Oral Language Development and Instruction if you prefer to go straight to the answers.

  • The Word Gap

    ** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

    It is now well established that children’s oral language development is crucial to their academic success, with the documentation of profound differences in word learning and the acquisition of content knowledge between children living in poverty and those from more economically advantaged homes. By the time they enter school, children from advantaged backgrounds may know as many as 15,000 more words than their less affluent peers. This early language gap sets children up to be at risk for other all too familiar gaps, such as the gaps in high school graduation, arrest and incarceration, post-secondary education, and lifetime earnings. So, what can we do to prevent this “early catastrophe”?

    If a child suffers from malnutrition, simply giving him/her more food might not be sufficient to alleviate the problem. A better approach would be to figure out which specific foods and supplements best provide the vitamins and nutrients that are needed, and then deliver these to the child. Recent press coverage on the “word gap," spurred by initiatives such as Too Small to Fail and Thirty Million Words, suffers from a similar failing.

    Don’t get me wrong, the initiatives themselves are hugely important and have done a truly commendable job of focusing public attention on a chronic and chronically overlooked problem. It’s just that the messages that have, thus far, made their way forward are predominantly about quantity – i.e., exposing children to more words and more talk – paying comparatively less attention to qualitative aspects, such as the nature and especially the content of adult-child interactions.

  • The Challenges Of Pre-K Assessment

    In the United States, nearly 1.3 million children attend publicly-funded preschool. As enrollment continues to grow, states are under pressure to prove these programs serve to increase school readiness. Thus, the task of figuring out how best to measure preschoolers’ learning outcomes has become a major policy focus.

    First, it should be noted that researchers are almost unanimous in their caution about this subject. There are inherent difficulties in the accurate assessment of very young children’s learning in the fields of language, cognition, socio-emotional development, and even physical development. Young children’s attention spans tend to be short and there are wide, natural variations in children’s performance in any given domain and on any given day. Thus, great care is advised for both the design and implementation of such assessments (see here, here, and here for examples). The question of if and how to use these student assessments to determine program or staff effectiveness is even more difficult and controversial (for instance, here and here). Nevertheless, many states are already using various forms of assessment to oversee their preschool investments.

    It is difficult to react to this (unsurprising) paradox. Sadly, in education, there is often a disconnect between what we know (i.e., research) and what we do (i.e., policy). But, since our general desire for accountability seems to be here to stay, a case can be made that states should, at a minimum, expand what they measure to reflect learning as accurately and broadly as possible.

    So, what types of assessments are better for capturing what a four- or a five- year old knows? How might these assessments be improved?

  • An Uncertain Time For One In Five Female Workers

    It’s well-known that patterns of occupational sex segregation in the labor market – the degree to which men and women are concentrated in certain occupations – have changed quite a bit over the past few decades, along with the rise of female labor force participation.

    Nevertheless, this phenomenon is still a persistent feature of the U.S. labor market (and those in other nations as well). There are many reasons for this, institutional, cultural and historical. But it’s interesting to take a quick look at a few specific groups, as there are implications in our current policy environment.

    The simple graph below presents the proportion of all working men and women that fall into three different occupational groups. The data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they apply to 2011.

  • Why Stop In Early Childhood? Two-Generation Strategies To Improve Educational Outcomes

    In education research, it is now widely accepted that ages 0 to 5 are crucial years for child development. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that children perform better behaviorally and academically in families with stable employment and rising incomes, families with stable employment and those where parents themselves are improving their own educational levels.

    Although it’s clear that increasing parents’ human capital protects and enhances the investments made in their children, "few programs have addressed the postsecondary education and training needs of low-income parents" (p. 2) through comprehensive, family-(child- and parent-) centered strategies.*

    I learned about some remarkable exceptions at a recent New America Foundation discussion on innovations in child care and early learning. Four providers from around the country were asked to describe their programs, all largely focused on helping parents achieve the kind of economic stability needed to support their children’s educational attainment.**

  • The Importance of STEM In The Early Grades

    Our guest author today is Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, President of the IBM Foundation, and a member of the Shanker Institute's board of directors.

    This is a difficult year for city and state leaders. They are struggling mightily with how to cope with both declining revenues and escalating costs, resulting in painful short term decisions about what to cut, how to cut, and ways in which basic or vital services can be maintained. Sadly, we have heard far too little these days about where to invest and how to invest in order to produce longer term benefit and mitigate longer term costs.

    As people focus on education, it has been common wisdom that business leaders and those concerned with the bottom line have an interest in education too, but that interest is focused solely on STEM, or Science Technology, Engineering and Math. And that focus is placed on the later grades such as middle and high schools. It is undeniable that STEM is important, especially if we are to nurture the next generation of innovators. To do so, we must invest more creatively to improve teacher quality and student outcomes. But we can not address these challenges by limiting our focus to secondary education. While career pathways are great motivators for teenagers and young adults, we simply can not wait until high school - or even middle school - to prepare students and capture their imaginations. We must start earlier, much earlier. In that effort, early childhood education is vitally important.

  • A Call For Common Content

    A diverse group of influential education and other leaders today announced support for clear curricular guidance to complement the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by most states. 

    Today’s statement released by the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute and signed by dozens of educators, advocates, policymakers, researchers and scholars from across the educational and political spectrum, highlights one largely ignored factor needed to enable  American students to achieve to high levels and become internationally competitive—the creation of voluntary model curricula that can be taught in the nation’s classrooms.

    Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, urged broad support and dissemination for the statement, "A Call for Common Content". “We are arguing for the tools and materials that teachers need," she said. “With rich, sequential common curricula, amplified by state and local content—and with teacher preparation, classroom materials, student assessments,  teacher development, and teacher evaluation all aimed at  the mastery of that content—we can finally build the kind of coherent system that supports the achievement of all learners; the kind of system enjoyed by the world’s highest performing nations."

    The release of “A Call for Common Content” comes at a special time. After decades of debate, the nation is finally on its way to having common, voluntary standards in mathematics and English language arts. Although this recent state-led effort is an important and positive first step, notes the statement, it is not sufficient to achieve a well-functioning education system that offers both excellence and opportunity.