NIEER's weekly newsletter for the latest in early education news

NIEER Weekly

Volume 17, Issue 33

August 17, 2018

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: Conversation Counts, Pre-K in Japan, Quality Matters

Hot Topics

Yakety Yak Do Talk Back

Young children who are regularly engaged in conversation by adults may have stronger connections between brain regions critical for language regardless of socio-economic status and volume of adult speech, according to a new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. 

In 1995, researchers reported that children of highly educated, professional parents heard many more words addressed to them than children of parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds. That difference became known as the “30 million-word gap,” a ubiquitous factoid in the early childhood advocacy toolbox used to convey the disparity facing children in low-income households; but a follow-up study found variation in speech directed to children unrelated to socioeconomic status, and that including speech overheard by children would eliminate differences related to socioeconomic status.

This new study, Adult-child Conversations Strengthen Language Regions of Developing Brain, found greater adult-child conversational experience, regardless of socio-economic status and amount of adult speech, related to stronger connections between brain regions critical for comprehension and production of speech.

Based on brain imaging from 40 children ages 4-6 years and conversational turn-taking measured over a weekend with an in-home audio recording device, this study suggests early intervention programs striving to close the achievement gap associated with socio-economic status should focus on enhancing children’s conversational exposure to make the most of early brain development.

“The present study finds that young children’s real-world language exposure, and specifically the amount of adult-child conversation, correlates with the strength of connectivity in the left hemisphere white matter pathway connecting two canonical language regions, independent of SES and the sheer volume of adult speech” according to the JNeurosci abstract. “These findings suggest that early intervention programs aiming to close the achievement gap may focus on increasing children’s conversational exposure in order to capitalize on the early neural plasticity underlying cognitive development.”

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NIEER Activities

NIEER Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett recently returned from Tokyo where he spoke on the Economics of Early Childhood Education at Keio University’s Center for Research on Equality of Opportunity for Children (CREOC). The Center aims to advance understanding about the transmission of inequality over generations with a special focus on inequality of opportunity for children in Japan.

Dr. Barnett also consulted with faculty at The Center for Early Childhood Development, Education and Policy Research (CEDEP) at University of Tokyo. Like NIEER, CEDEP is focused on establishing a new interdisciplinary research field in which researchers more closely partner with policy makers and practice leaders in research on early childhood development, ECEC practice, and public policies.

The consequences of early childhood policies and programs seem to vary with context, and examining early childhood policy in different countries can provide additional insights by allowing us to look at similar policies in quite different contexts, Dr. Barnett notes.

Japan, on the leading edge of countries confronting both declining birthrates and an aging society, in 2015 launched a widespread and historic ECEC policy reform. “The Comprehensive Support System for Children and Child-rearing” relies on interdisciplinary research to inform innovation and quality improvements in early childhood environments.

Two new studies from Japan address the complex dynamics of early childhood policy:

Long-Term Social Benefits of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Large-Scale Expansion of Kindergartens (Michihito Ando, Hiroaki Mori, and Shintaro Yamaguchi) analyzes a large-scale expansion of kindergartens in Japan, estimating its long-term effects on outcomes including criminal behavior and pregnancy during adolescence. Findings suggest subsidized, widely accessible early childhood education programs substantially reduce violent crime and costly special education. (For further information, please contact authors)

How Does Early Childcare Enrollment Affect Children, Parents, and Their Interactions? (Shintaro Yamaguchi, Yukiko Asai, and Ryo Kambayashi) finds that childcare improves language development and reduces symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and aggression among the children of low-education mothers. Improved child behavior is strongly associated with better parenting quality, which seems to be increased by reducing parents’ stress and improving their subjective well-being.

CEELO Update

The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) recently learned the Preschool Development Grant Birth-5 (PDG B-5) Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) would NOT be posted this week as expected. While the new date for posting remains uncertain, CEELO notes that states will still have 60 days from the posted date to submit application. An email notification will be sent to all Governor Offices, regional offices, CCDF State Administrators, Head Start Collaboration Directors, and other early childhood stakeholder groups once the FOA is posted.

CEELO anticipates the FOA will be out by the end of August and recommends applicants meet with partners to begin planning. CEELO has developed two tools to assist state teams.

NEW! Questions to Guide Planning with Partners | PDG – B-5. The new Preschool Development Grant B-5 opportunity in the ESSA is intended to help states coordinate existing early care and learning programs and services based on identified needs–not to create new early care and learning programs. The PDG B-5 grant initiative can assist in coordination of existing early care and learning services and funding streams. This short resource provides advice to state planners in assessing the strengths of their systems, and identifying priorities.

NEW! The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Plan and the State or Local ESSA Plan. Both of these state plans identify goals and  ways to use federal funds for children that could serve as a connector or catalyst to ensure equitable access to high quality programs/experiences for children 0-8. Both of the planning processes call on the state to address key elements of an aligned, early childhood system. This discussion guide helps state planners identify opportunities to create an integrated, coherent approach to implementing these plans as they impact children birth to third grade.


Engaging Young Children: Lessons from Research about Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care

Policy debate has been shifting from expanding access to affordable ECEC to enhancing its quality as a growing body of research suggests the benefits for children depend on the quality of early childhood services. A book recently published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development draws lessons from a cross-national literature review and meta-analysis of the relationship between early childhood education and care structure (e.g. child-staff ratios, staff training and qualifications), process quality (i.e. the quality of staff-child interactions and developmental activities), and links to child development and learning.

Results are organized by three thematic “policy levers,” including Standards and Governance, Workforce Development and Working Conditions, and Data and Monitoring. The report also provides a set of key insights and identifies avenues for future research.

Two Sides of the Coin: Costs and Financing High-Quality Early Learning 

This presentation by CEELO’s Lori Connors-Tadros and GG Weisenfeld, Theresa Hawley of Illinois Action for Children, and Nasha Patel of the Louisiana Department of Education during the BUILD Initiative’s 2018 QRIS National Meeting  explores what states are learning about using cost data to inform and drive policy decisions on financing high-quality early learning programs. Once policymakers know costs, the flip side is putting together the financing to drive quality.

The Effect of e-Book Vocabulary Instruction on Spanish–English Speaking Children

A recent article in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research examined the effect of an intensive vocabulary intervention embedded in e-books on the vocabulary skills of young Spanish-English speaking English learners (ELs) from low-socioeconomic status backgrounds. About 290 kindergarten children and first-graders were randomly assigned to treatment and read-only conditions. Children in the treatment condition received e-books supplemented with vocabulary instruction including scaffolding through explanations in Spanish, repetition in English, checks for understanding, and highlighted morphology.

Researchers reported positive effects of the intervention on expressive labeling and vocabulary. Researchers suggest that findings substantiate the effectiveness of a computer-implemented embedded vocabulary intervention for increasing ELs’ vocabulary knowledge. They further suggest that computer-assisted vocabulary instruction with scaffolding through Spanish explanations, repetitions, and highlighted morphology is a promising approach to facilitate word learning for ELs in kindergarten and first grade.

Using a Social Marketing Approach to Develop Healthy Me, Healthy We: A Nutrition and Physical Activity Intervention in ECE

A new study in Translational Behavioral Medicine describes use of a social marketing approach to develop an Early Care and Education (ECE)-based intervention encouraging an ECE provider-parent partnership to improve quality of preschool children’s diets and levels of physical activity. A six-step social marketing approach for public health interventions guided the development of this ECE-based intervention.

Researchers reviewed current literature, conducted focus groups with ECE providers and parents, developed a detailed conceptual model and content map, created and tested the campaign concept, and developed final campaign materials along with strategies for its implementation. The final intervention resulting from this process was an 8-month campaign known as “Healthy Me, Healthy We.” The campaign is delivered by the child care center and includes branded materials for use in the classroom and at home. The final campaign is being evaluated in a cluster-randomized trial.

How Pictures in Picture Storybooks Support Young Children’s Story Comprehension: An Eye-Tracking Experiment

In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, researchers report on an experiment where written text was presented but combined with other sources of information including only oral narration, oral narration and a picture that was congruent with the narration, narration and an incongruent picture, and a picture without narration. Children’s eye movements while looking at the screen were recorded with an eye-tracker.

An important finding was that a congruent picture contributed substantially to children’s story retellings, more so than a picture that was incongruent with the narration. The eye-tracking data showed that children explored pictures in a way that they could maximally integrate the narration and the picture. Researchers suggest that  children in kindergarten need congruent pictures for understanding narration, that children synchronize narration with the picture, and that this happens on a moment-to-moment basis.

Young Children’s Buddy Reading with Multimodal App Books: Reading Patterns and Characteristics of Readers, Texts, and Contexts

A new study in Early Child Development and Care investigated 27 US and 28 Turkish dyads of children between four and six years old who read 12 app books across a school year. Researchers identified reading patterns in which the dyads engaged: hotspot-centric, text-centric, and integrated. They then examined how characteristics of readers (socio-economic status, language, and gender), text (animations, navigation features, and typographical cues), and context (social interaction styles) were related to these reading patterns. Researchers suggest children read differently in their native versus a foreign language, and social interaction styles played a role in how reading patterns changed over time.

Researchers report that integrated reading, navigating sequentially through the app book, and collaborative social interactions were related to deeper meaning-making and the use of more effective reading patterns over time.

Integrating STEM into Preschool Education; Designing a Professional Development Model in Diverse Settings

This new article released online in Early Childhood Education Journal discusses a professional development model designed to empower preschool educators to provide rich, high-quality STEM learning experiences, with particular emphasis on working in schools serving children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Researchers outline the main components and the iterative design process undertaken to ensure that professional supports were relevant and effective for teachers and children. Researchers present feedback from educators who participated in the design and implementation of the model. They further discuss how the process can inform other teacher educators and those interested in promoting early STEM in diverse preschool settings.

An Educational Programme Designed For the Evaluation of Effectiveness of Two Tooth Brushing Techniques in Preschool Children.

In a new article released in the European Journal of Paediatric Dentistry researchers evaluated the oral and dental health status of preschool children, taught them two different brushing techniques and evaluated the effectiveness of those techniques. One hundred sixty-three healthy children from three preschools in Turkey. Parents were surveyed, and all children were provided with an oral and dental health education and examinations. The horizontal scrub technique was randomly taught to a group of children, and the Fones technique to another group. Children were asked to apply the technique taught. Plaque index scores were recorded again, measurements were repeated at one week, and 1, 3 and six months.

Researchers report that questionnaires showed children’s and parents’ inadequate oral hygiene behaviors. Plaque index values for both techniques decreased from baseline at one week, and 1, 3 and six months. The horizontal scrub technique was applied more easily, and it provided an effective decrease in plaque index scores. Researchers suggest that the educational program with regular repeated tooth brushing training presented significant improvements in the oral health behaviors. Researchers further suggest that horizontal scrub technique was deemed more suitable than the Fones technique for preschool children.


W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is seeking a Program Officer for Early Childhood Education. The new Program Officer will identify and nurture opportunities for affecting positive change within educational systems and execute programming efforts that ensure all young children have access to high-quality and equitable education. S/he will screen and recommend grants for funding, prepare funding documents, conduct site visits, and manage and monitor the grant portfolio.

Applications including a cover letter describing your interest and qualifications, your resume (in Word format), salary history, and where you learned of the position should be sent to: Please type your name (Last, First) as the only contents in the subject line of your e-mail.


NBDCI Annual Conference

October 13-16, 2018
Dallas, TX

The National Black Child Development Institute is hosting its 48th Annual Conference, “The Power of Our People,” to gather early childhood educators, K-12 teachers, administrators, social workers, health professionals, policy makers,  research and academic experts, community and faith-based organizations, business and government entities who share NBCDI’s mission to improve and advance the quality of life for Black children and families through education and advocacy.

Download the preliminary brochure to learn more about workshops, plenaries, and special events. Register at

Early Education News Roundup

ICYMI: Read this week’s key stories on early childhood education issues.

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