Research program examines universal pre-K

In an effort to support New York’s pre-K programs, NYU Steinhardt’s Institute for Human Development and Social Change has partnered with the New York City Department for Education and the New york City Center for Economic Opportunity.

Funded by the U.S. DOE’s Institute of Education Sciences and the Spencer Foundation, this project will help educators and researchers better understand how universal pre-K programs support children throughout the school year.

Pamela Morris, director of IHDSC and the project’s co-principal investigator, said she believes this project will provide unprecedented research that will help tailor programs for pre-K students.

“What we were wanting to do was really provide a dashboard for the city,” Morris said. “It turns out that the city has very good information on enrollment but had less information on how kids were doing in terms of their cognitive and socioemotional development over the course of the year.”

The program is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ongoing efforts to establish universal preschool for the children of New York City. Since unveiling the plan, the city has successfully enrolled more than 51,000 children in preschool programs.

“We made pre-K for all the centerpiece of our agenda to fight inequality and give every family opportunity,” de Blasio said in a statement from Nov. 3. “We are working every day to ensure these programs fulfill their potential and meet the highest standards. Two months in, high-quality, full-day pre-K is changing children’s lives.”

Cybele Raver, NYU’s vice-provost for Research and Faculty Affairs and principal investigator of the project, said this program is on the cutting-edge of innovation and research that supports young children.

“This is a very exciting opportunity to put science to work,” Raver said. “Often we know a lot about children, but we don’t necessarily have a lot of opportunity to examine those models in a real world context.”

Working with Research Alliance for New York City Schools, Raver said the project will offer concrete data that will demonstrate students’ academic and social progress in the classroom.

“We will be collaborating on analyzing the data with the explicit goal of providing very clear data visualizations of our findings, so they understand the progress the children are making,” Raver said.

Steinhardt professor Richard Arum said he is glad the city is making an effort to improve preschools and to collect and analyze data to increase the effectiveness of its programs.

“Educational expansions of this scale and scope are typically fraught with multiple challenges to implementation,” Arum said. “By opening up the initiative to ongoing data analysis by independent researchers, the city is moving forward in a progressive manner designed to achieve the greatest impact on the lives of children.”

Executive director of Research Alliance and Steinhardt professor James Kemple is another one of the project’s co-principal investigators, striving to help the New York City DOE build systems that will strengthen the universal pre-K program.

“We hope that we will also help to provide information about what makes strong programs in the classroom,” Kemple said. “These measures really predict students’ readiness in school, from kindergarten into first and second grade.”

Kemple added that Research Alliance’s established relationship with the New York City DOE will allow researchers access to student data from pre-K all the way through high school.

“We can actually have information of students as they move through college,” Kemple said.

Conducting research in early childhood studies with Raver for more than 15 years, Morris said this project allows them to support New York’s historic expansion of pre-K.

“They’ve taken a very bold step in offering universal preschool services to children across the city,” Morris said. “This is really an opportunity for us to develop a partnership with the city and help support their efforts in rolling this out.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 13 print edition. Stephanie Grella is a staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected]