Press Room SPEECHES
Statement of Grover J. Whitehurst, Director of the Institute of Education Sciences
Before the House Subcommittee on Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations on Child Development Research and Programs and the FY 2005 Budget Request
Archived Information


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

The Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 established a new organization within the U.S. Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The statutory mission of IES is to expand knowledge and provide information on the condition of education (through the National Center for Education Statistics), practices that improve academic achievement (through the National Center for Education Research), and the effectiveness of Federal and other education programs (through the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance).

IES was born out of a shared sense among policy makers that education practice and research are badly in need of reform. Capturing this view, the National Research Council concluded that, "the complex world of education—unlike defense, health care, or industrial production—does not rest on a strong research base. In no other field are personal experience and ideology so frequently relied on to make policy choices, and in no other field is the research base so inadequate and little used." (Improving Student Learning: A Strategic Plan for Education Research and Its Utilization, 1999).

Significant Increase in Funds for Education Research Requested

Recognizing the need for more funding to hasten the transformation of education into an evidence-based field, the Administration has requested record increases for education research since IES was established. For fiscal year 2004, for example, the President's request was 33 percent larger than the previous year's appropriation. I am deeply appreciative of this Committee's support of the Administration's request for research and dissemination last year. For fiscal year 2005, we have once again requested $185 million for research and dissemination, an increase of $19.5 million above the 2004 appropriation. I hope and trust that the request will receive from this Committee the same support this year that it received last year.

I'm pleased to be able to talk with you today about our research programs in child development for three reasons. First, they provide wonderful examples of how increased support of education research can pay real dividends. Second, they highlight interagency collaboration: My colleagues sitting at the table today and I meet frequently to coordinate our agencies' activities in early childhood. I think you will see an obvious coherence to our programs of research as a result. Third, this was my field of research before taking up my present position, so I am always pleased to talk about it.

Identifying Effective Preschool Curricula

Roughly 4 million children begin school in the United States every year. By one estimate, 1.3 million of those children enter school unprepared to learn (Carnegie, 1991). In the Head Start program, for example, children typically graduate from the program at around the 25th percentile on a range of school readiness skills, while the average child entering kindergarten is at the 50th percentile.

Policy makers have begun to respond to the mounting evidence of the importance of early experience with calls to provide better quality preschool programs. However, the evidence that would allow informed choices among early childhood programs is weak. For example, the State of Georgia, a leader in State-funded pre-kindergarten programs, allows providers to choose among seven different nationally available curricula. There is little research evidence that would allow providers to make an informed choice among these curricula, and no rationale for the exclusion of other nationally available programs.

Our Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research program is designed to address this lack of information. We have funded 13 research teams across the Nation. Each is comparing one or more well-implemented, widely available preschool curricula against the business-as-usual curriculum that is otherwise available to the preschoolers being served. Each grantee is using the gold standard for evaluating program effectiveness: a randomized controlled trial. In other words, classrooms are chosen through a lottery to implement the new curriculum. Results for children in the new curriculum classrooms are compared with results for children in classrooms that, by chance, are chosen to continue business-as-usual. A national contractor conducts the same assessment across all of these sites. Children are being followed into elementary school.

We have recently taken our first look at the outcomes of the program at the end of the pre-kindergarten year. While it will be a while before we're ready to publish results, I'm pleased to be able to tell you that we are finding large differences among the preschool programs in their effectiveness in preparing children for school. At the end of the day, we believe the results from this research program will be extremely useful to State pre-kindergarten programs, private preschool providers, and Head Start in making program choices for the children they serve.

Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies

Another major investment of IES in the area of child development is in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies, conducted through our statistics center. There are two studies: The birth cohort is following a nationally representative sample of children from birth (born in 2001) through the first grade. The kindergarten cohort (base-year data collected in 1998) is following a nationally representative sample of children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. These studies allow us to answer questions about the range of preschool and home environments experienced by children in the United States, and permit the identification of relationships between these experiences and child outcomes. The kindergarten cohort study, for example, has demonstrated that children who recognize their letters, who are read to at least three times a week, who recognize their basic numbers and shapes, and who demonstrate an understanding of the mathematical concept of relative size as they enter kindergarten demonstrate significantly higher overall reading and mathematics skills in the spring of first grade than children who do not have these skills. This is true even when children's poverty and race/ethnicity are controlled for statistically. The implications of these findings for the content of preschool curricula are obvious: Children who don't, for example, learn to name letters of the alphabet or their shapes at home need to be taught these skills in their pre-kindergarten programs if they are to have a good chance of succeeding when they begin school.

Early Reading First Evaluation

Within our evaluation center, we are soon to launch a major evaluation of the impact of the Early Reading First program, a component of No Child Left Behind that is administered by the Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Through a competitive process, funds are provided to local education agencies and public or private organizations that serve children from low-income families. Based on the understanding that literacy is a learned skill, not a biological awakening, the program promotes coherent, skill-based instruction in the years before kindergarten. Our evaluation will determine whether programs that receive Early Reading First grants, and the associated technical assistance that goes along with the grants, are able to enhance children's school readiness compared to similar programs that do not receive Early Reading First funds.

National Center for Early Development and Learning

A final focused investment in early childhood research is our National Center for Early Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of their most important projects is a longitudinal study of about 1,000 children attending State pre-kindergarten programs in six States. The study has examined children's growth in school-related learning and social skills over the pre-kindergarten year. The greatest growth was found in classrooms where teachers directly engaged children in literacy and mathematical activities and which were characterized by positive teacher-child relationships.

Scaling-up Language and Literacy Development Research

I have described programs within IES that are focused on preschoolers. In addition, IES has a number of research programs that are open to studies of preschoolers as well as older students. One prime example is the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI). This is a joint project of IES, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Science Foundation. It focuses on research on scaling-up education programs to determine how to make these programs effective when they are widely used in varied settings. One very promising project within the IERI portfolio is studying the scaling up of a language and literacy development program at the pre-kindergarten level. The study is using a randomized controlled trial to examine the effectiveness of an on-line early literacy professional development model for pre-kindergarten teachers. If the needs of preschool teachers to learn how to better teach pre-reading skills can be served, in part, through on-line instruction, the reach and efficiency of professional development for these teachers can be enhanced substantially.

Conclusion

Every period of a child's life is important, but one consistent finding from research on child development is that "as the twig is bent so grows the tree." Within the arena of children's growth and development, IES has a particular role in providing policy makers and educators with research that will identify what works best for which children in preparing children for school. I have described for you a variety of ambitious projects that examine the relationships between preschool educational experience and children's outcomes. When they reach fruition, I believe the results will change the face of preschool education in the United States.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to respond to your questions and comments.


 
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Last Modified: 03/24/2004