Improving the quality of teaching and professional development for early childhood educators is the focus of two new grants awarded to EDC by the U.S. Department of Education. The awards, which total about $4 million, were issued to EDC’s Center for Children & Families (CC&F) by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education. The grants will fund two areas of research, science education and literacy and language.
“America is facing a literacy crisis,” says Joanne Brady, director of CC&F. “Poor children are particularly at risk, and gaps associated with socioeconomic and racial backgrounds are widening.” Improving childhood literacy and science understanding will improve children’s school success and their long-term career prospects, she notes.
The multi-year projects will use rigorous research methods, notably an experimental design using random assignment that examines the impact of professional development on both teachers’ practices and on children’s learning.
The language and literacy project will unfold in schools across West Virginia, where EDC researchers will examine the efficacy of two EDC-produced professional development approaches, the Literacy Environment Enrichment Program (LEEP) and Technology-Enhanced Literacy Environment Enrichment Program (T-LEEP). LEEP features more traditional face-to-face classes, while T-LEEP offers interactive television, Web-based instruction, and face-to-face classes.
“Studying the efficacy of these two approaches will meet the field’s need for high quality, research-based language and literacy instruction and comprehensive ongoing professional development for early childhood education teachers and supervisors,” says Nancy Clark-Chiarelli, EdD, principal investigator for the projects and an expert in quantitative research methods with an in-depth knowledge of young children’s language and literacy development.
For example, the study will answer the questions, “Can our previous findings, that T-LEEP and LEEP teachers demonstrated significantly higher quality language- and literacy-related environments and instructional practices than did teachers who did not receive the programs, be replicated?” as well as “What is the difference between LEEP and T-LEEP in terms of outcomes for teachers and children?”
This “efficacy and replication study,” reflects the Department of Education’s goal to fund research that will lead to larger scale implementation of successful programs, notes Clark-Chiarelli. “LEEP and T-LEEP already have been developed and evaluated in a quasi-experimental fashion. This new project takes the interventions and assesses their efficacy in a more rigorous, scientific manner, and replicates it in counties throughout West Virginia.”
The study will include two cohorts of preschool teachers (total=110) and the 1,100 four-year-olds in their classrooms. Child outcomes will be assessed by a variety of standardized tests, and teacher practices will be assessed via classroom observation. Teacher instructional practices will be further detailed in case studies of teachers in 12 classrooms.
Researching Science Education
The second area of work, in science education, will test EDC’s credit-bearing professional development program, Foundations of Science Literacy. The program, which features instructional sessions and a mentoring component, will be offered in selected Head Start programs in Massachusetts. “We are responding to a critical need for empirical evidence on effective strategies to improve preschool science instruction,” says Clark-Chiarelli, who noted that improvement is most needed among English language learners and low-income children.
The Head Start programs participating in the study serve largely low-income populations with many English language learners. A total of 72 teachers and 420 children will be involved.
“To test Foundations’ potential to improve teachers’ practices and children’s learning, we will use a pre-post experimental design to answer the question, ‘Does this professional development work?’ In addition, we will use qualitative methods to examine for whom it works and under what conditions,” notes Clark-Chiarelli. The project will also develop an assessment tool to gauge children’s science knowledge.
“Currently, there isn’t a good instrument to assess children’s science development,” she says. A key contribution of the research will be to develop an assessment to do that.
“The two domains—science and literacy—interface,” according to Clark-Chiarelli. “Vocabulary development—featured in the language and literacy area—is also strengthened by an understanding of science concepts and vice versa.”
For the past 25 years, CC&F projects have focused on strengthening the programs that serve young children and their families. CC&F works closely with child care agencies, Head Start Programs, schools, state agencies, and national organizations.
Originally published on July 31, 2005