• Early Childhood Education

    Closing the Achievement Gap through High-Quality Early Education

    Dr. Donna Housman       

    “Ensuring that all children are entering kindergarten with the foundational academic skills they need to succeed is a major priority for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners alike. Early childhood education programs show promise toward this goal. Research suggests that participation in a high-quality early childhood education program can enhance children’s development, reduce achievement gaps at kindergarten entry, and even have long-term benefits for children’s school trajectories.”

     

    So begins the April 2016 report, “How Much Can High-Quality Universal Pre-K Reduce Achievement Gaps?” released by the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization.

     

    The report suggests, “While high-quality early learning programs have been shown to boost children’s development and reduce the achievement gap, access to high-quality programs is low and highly uneven across families from different backgrounds—even among publicly funded programs.”

     

    What the report does not articulate in any depth is what constitutes a high-quality program. A footnote for the report did note that schools were rated through “a widely used standardized classroom observation instrument that assesses the quality of materials, space, and interactions between children and teachers on a scale of 1 to 7.”

     

    While Beginnings provides both high-quality material and space, we also provide high-quality interactions between children and teachers. Teaching and learning is an outgrowth of human interaction. Likewise, research has shown that children’s ability to regulate their emotional expressiveness and experience when required—and their knowledge of their own and other’s emotion—are critical to their academic and social success.

     

    Beginnings ECSEL approach (Emotional Cognitive Social Early Learning) is built on these principles. Evidence-based outcomes to methodology that incorporates these principles include: increased self-confidence, sustained concentration, positive pro-social skills, academic achievement, physical and emotional health and well-being, leadership skills, and less vulnerability to acts of violence and bullying. Reinforcing the success of such an approach on underserved communities is a 2014 study by New York University Professors Clancy Blair and C. Cybele Raver entitled “Closing the Achievement Gap through Modification of Neurocognitive and Neuroendocrine Function: Results from a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of an Innovative Approach to the Education of Children in Kindergarten”. That study found that in high-poverty schools a focus on executive functions and associated aspects of self-regulation in early elementary education holds promise for closing the achievement gap.

     

    When more education programs integrate in their learning approach tenets such as these—ones so integral to our programs at Beginnings—and a wider swathe of our nation’s children get access to such programs, those achievement gaps will truly begin to close.