Volume 16, Issue 7

Hot Topics

New Research Summaries Inform Policy But Offer No Easy Answers

Diverse opinions over how much teacher qualifications and class size influence the quality of early childhood education have stymied policymakers’ efforts to improve learning and development outcomes for young children. Two new quantitative summaries of research can help policymakers see through the fog of these debates a bit more clearly.

A new comprehensive research review provides guidance based on the research as a whole rather than any single study and concludes that teacher educational qualifications are positively associated with the quality of a child’s learning experience.

A recently published Campbell Collaboration review, summarizing findings from 48 studies in several countries, finds “a statistically significant association between teacher qualification and the quality of early childhood learning environment” across different cultures and contexts.

Such results should encourage educators and policymakers seeking to raise quality and improve the lives of young children, particularly the most disadvantaged, to adopt the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences to transform the early childhood workforce.

The research found “higher teacher qualifications are related to improvements in supporting children’s development, including language-reasoning experiences, supervision and the scheduling of activities, organization and arrangement of the room, providing varied social experiences for children, and creating a warm and friendly environment for interactions.”

Another new meta analysis uses data from a comprehensive database of U.S. early childhood education program evaluations published between 1960 and 2007 to evaluate the relationship between class size, child–teacher ratio, and program effect sizes for cognitive, achievement, and socioemotional outcomes.

Are Thresholds of Quality Associated With Greater Impacts on Cognitive, Achievement, and Socioemotional Outcomes finds that class sizes lower than 20 do not have perceptible impacts on child outcomes until fairly small sizes—less than 15—are reached. Of course, this does not mean that class size reduction between 15 and 20 can not matter, as most programs may not have been designed and implemented so as to take maximum advantage of the reduction, nor does it account for differences in the student population served as discussed by Jim Squires in his blog today.

As usual there are no easy answers from research for policymakers, but these studies should direct their attention to consider details of policy changes and conditions under which they are likely to produce the desired results. For example, larger classes might make it possible to pay teachers better and hire better qualified teachers. However, smaller classes might be worthwhile if they allow strong teachers to individualize more.

Our strong advice would be that any change in teacher qualifications, class size or ratio be demonstrated at reasonable scale for a reasonable period of time and carefully evaluated for both the desired and unanticipated consequences before it is made permanent system wide. And, the first goal should be to ensure that change actually takes place as designed.

Policymakers would then be in a much better position to decide whether changing class size or ratio for an entire system was a good idea. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do and not the standard approach to policy making as it requires a shift towards a continuous improvement mindset.

New on Preschool Matters…Today!

Rethinking the Numbers

There is general agreement on the key features that contribute to high-quality, effective education programs. These features or quality standards (Barnett et al., 2016) can be viewed as necessary but not sufficient, in part because they are interdependent, one reason that some have referred them as “essential elements” (Minervino, 2015). These research-based characteristics have found their way into national and state program requirements, state licensing regulations, quality rating standards, accreditation criteria, and teacher licensure standards.  

Two areas of common agreement stand out as being ripe for additional research and reconsideration—group size and adult-child ratios.

NIEER Activities

Handbook of Early Childhood Development Programs, Practices, and Policies

More than 20 distinguished researchers contributed chapters to this new guide for those working to improve young children’s lives through practice and policy. NIEER’s director Steve Barnett co-authored with Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, Eric Dearing and Megan Carolan a chapter on publicly supported early care and education programs.

This just published handbook summarizes compelling research with its implications for improving policy and programs for young children and their families. Key topics include school readiness, mental health, the effects of adverse experiences, dual language learners, children with disabilities, and family-school partnerships. Of particularly high interest in today’s environment are the chapters on immigration policy and on what it means to be “evidence based.”

CEELO Update

CEELO this week shared State Pre-K Funding 2016-17 Fiscal Year: Trends and Opportunities, a 50-state review of state investments in pre-K funding by program for the 2016-17 fiscal year.  
The review finds pre-K funding increased $480 million or 6.8% over 2015-16, highlighting several state examples and describing early learning opportunities for states under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).


CityHealth Initiative

A project of the de Beaumont Foundation, this assessment is the culmination of a two-year analysis into how 40 large US cities fare across nine policies that help residents lead healthier lives and communities thrive.

CityHealth awarded cities gold, silver, bronze, or no medal based on the number and strength of their policies in nine areas, as well as overall. CityHealth policies include recommendations for issues such as affordable housing, transportation, public safety, and early education; each recommendation is backed by evidence, supported by qualified experts, and has a track record of bipartisan support.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, D.C. received overall gold medals. For high-quality, universal preschool, gold medal recipients include Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte NC, Memphis, Nashville, New York City, Oklahoma City and Washington, DC.

Summit on Science and Technology Enablement for the Sustainable Development Goals Early Childhood Development Stream 

NIEER Co-Director for Research Milagros Nores, Ph.D. participated late last year in the ‘New York Academy of Sciences’ Summit for Science and Technology Enablement for the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing to the group focused on Early Childhood Development. Adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as the centerpiece of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs are a roadmap for the future: a set of 17 global goals and 169 specific targets aimed at saving the planet and its people and forging peaceful, just societies.

Released this week, the ECD report includes ideas for: harnessing technology and forging partnerships to formulate standardized ECD metrics and affordable, field-based assessment instruments; improving ECD data collection and fostering data sharing via mobile technologies; and advocating a new approach to implementation research that reveals which ECD interventions optimize child development in various environments.

PK–3: What Does It Mean for Instruction?

With most four-year-olds in the United States now in center-based early care, the need for aligning instruction from preschool through the early grades (PK-3) has become more pressing. Yet so far there has been little guidance on how to create alignment. Research on PK-3 alignment seeks to provide general principles for creating instructional continuity that sustains and enhances student learning.

This new Society for Research in Child Development policy report proposes a conceptualization of productive continuity in academic instruction, as well as in the social climate and classroom management practices that might affect children’s social-emotional development. It also considers ways in which schools might seek to achieve continuity in parents’ and children’s experiences, as well as proposing specific state and district policies and school practices that are likely to promote continuous and meaningful learning experiences.

How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking

Evidence-based policymaking is the systematic use of findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses to guide government policy and funding decisions. By focusing limited resources on programs shown to produce positive results, governments can improve outcomes of services funded by taxpayers.

Yet while the term “evidence-based policymaking” is growing in popularity, there is limited information about how often states use it. This recent Pew Charitable Trusts study assesses how often states use evidence-based policymaking in human service areas and categorizes each state (and District of Columbia) based on the results.

Infants and Toddlers in the Policy Picture: A Self-Assessment Toolkit for States

Zero to Three recently published a toolkit to help policymakers and advocates assess the status of services for infants, toddlers, and their families, and to set priorities for improvement.

The framework is based on the notion all infants and toddlers need good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences, and that young children benefit most from an ECE system built through collaboration. The self-assessment draws on research-based effective policies and best practices.



NIEER is seeking a Research Professor/Co-Director to assume major leadership responsibilities for the development and management of research, development of assessments including assessments of practice, and the provision of professional development and technical assistance relating to systems design and large-scale implementation of early learning initiatives.

To apply, please use this link provided by Rutgers University. Applicants are expected to provide a cover letter, CV, and contact information for three references.

Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison seeks to fund research examining policies and programs with the potential to reduce child poverty and/or its effects, a key area of interest identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Proposals are invited from U.S. Ph.D.-holding poverty scholars at all career stages, from postdoctoral fellows to senior faculty, and from all disciplines. IRP anticipates funding four to eight projects, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 each. The proposal deadline is 5:00 p.m. CDT, March 31, 2017.


School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten
Date: February 27, 2017 (snow date February 28) 
Time: 7 p.m. 
Place: Taylor Memorial Library, Centenary University, Hackettstown NJ

NIEER Associate Research Professor Shannon Riley-Ayers will participate on a panel discussion following showing of this film capturing a year in the life of a forest kindergarten in Switzerland featuring outdoor unstructured play.  

Early Education in the News

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

Highlighting the week's most interesting stories and studies: Heavy meta, Rethinking class size and Ranking Cities