Pew Trusts awards Rutgers $5.3 million grant for national institute

Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education (GSE) has been awarded a $5.3 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to establish a national institute for the research and support of early childhood education initiatives, it was announced today.

The National Institute for Early Education Research will support new research initiatives and work with policy makers, advocates and public interest organizations to produce critical changes in early education policy in the United States. The institute will operate at its new quarters at 120 Albany Street in New Brunswick.

“One of our nation’s most important tasks is to raise the quality of early education in the United States so that every child receives a good educational foundation at an early age,” said Susan Urahn, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Education Program.

GSE Professor W. Steven Barnett, who will direct the institute, said the new entity will build on the existing work of GSE’s Center for Early Education Research (CEER), which he also directs, to enhance the early education field’s capacity to conduct and communicate policy research and analysis on a national level. CEER will be merged with the new institute, Barnett added.

“There is a tremendous need for the development and communication of knowledge about the rapidly growing field of early childhood education,” said Barnett, noting that no professional organization or other network currently exists to link early education policy researchers and policy makers. “One of the most exciting aspects of the new institute is that it provides a place for government officials and others responsible for early education to turn to for researched-based answers to practical questions about implementing high-quality programs,” Barnett added.

Joseph J. Seneca, university vice president for academic affairs at Rutgers, said, “I am confident that under Dr. Barnett’s excellent direction and scholarship, the institute will influence the entire field of early education policy by providing leadership in setting the research agenda, facilitating coordination and communication among researchers, stimulating improvements in research methods and enhancing the communication of policy-relevant research findings to appropriate audiences.”

Research conducted at CEER and elsewhere over the past 40 years has demonstrated the importance of providing early educational opportunities to children at ages three and four to address critical problems in the national education system. Those problems include the large numbers of children who enter school poorly prepared to succeed, as well as a tremendous achievement gap between rich and poor, and between Asian and white students on the one hand and black and Hispanic students on the other.

Barnett noted that the numbers of children enrolled in preschool programs has steadily increased, with nearly 50 percent of children at age three and nearly 70 percent of children at age four currently in preschool or childcare.

“Those numbers are even greater in the northeast, which is already nearing universal pre-kindergarten enrollment,” Barnett added, pointing out that 80 percent of four-year-olds in that geographic region attend a preschool program.

“The nation now has a tremendous opportunity to improve education and its outcomes by reaching the record number of children who attend early childhood programs outside their homes,” Barnett noted. The Pew Charitable Trusts ( support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy and religion. Based in Philadelphia, the trusts make strategic investments to help organizations and citizens develop practical solutions to difficult problems. In 2001, with approximately $4.3 billion in assets, the trusts committed over $230 million to 175 nonprofit organizations.

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