The percentage of America’s children who live in families struggling to meet daily housing, nutrition and health needs has increased in recent years, suggesting that we have lost America’s War on Poverty. Informed by longitudinal experimental studies, we know that early childhood programs can improve outcomes for young children whose families live in poverty. These improvements in education, health and social wellbeing are manifest in long-term economic and community benefits. The Abecedarian Study, conducted at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, is one of these rigorously conducted studies that has consistently demonstrated positive outcomes—both anticipated and surprising—well into the participants’ middle adulthood.
Subsequent research and program evaluations, including studies of childcare quality and publicly-funded preschool, have identified features of early childhood interventions that can produce positive outcomes for children and families. Numerous and varied early childhood initiatives have followed, with mixed results, and modest long-term outcomes. In fact, some consider our efforts to use early care and education as a transformational tool ineffective.
This presentation breaks down findings from the Abecedarian study by focusing on the features of care and education that likely benefited the Abecedarian participants. We’ll examine what we know (and what we don’t know) about the Abecedarian study, and sift through subsequent evidence on high quality programs. We can then begin to consider how features of high quality early childhood programs can be produced in multiple settings and understand how and why their implementation justifies and returns their substantial economic investment. With an eye on what this research means for policy, Gallagher will highlight implications for caregivers: families and early childhood professionals.
Kathleen (Kate) Gallagher is an educational psychologist and scientist at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and clinical associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Drawing on over twenty-five years teaching in and leading early childhood programs, Gallagher designs, implements and evaluates approaches—including high-quality early childhood programs—that support the social and academic wellbeing of young children, families, and early childhood professionals.
Among her current research projects, Gallagher is examining supports for the wellbeing of early childhood professionals, and evaluating implementation and systems change in the Transformation Zone in the North Carolina Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. Last year, Gallagher delivered two TED talks on the evidence base for supporting the power of high-quality early childhood programs—as the awarded faculty speaker at TEDxUNC and as an invited speaker at TEDxMemphis.