Early Childhood Education

  • The Role of Curriculum in Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Programs

    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.

  • Early Childhood Assessments: Problems & Possibilities

    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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.