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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: early education

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October 27, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Guest: When speaking to infants, aim for quality over quantity

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy Cutchlow

Corrected version

Here’s one thing you can do to jumpstart your child’s literacy skills, whether or not Seattle voters approve one of the two early learning measures on the November ballot.

One of the most important ways you can interact with your infant is simple: Talk. A lot. If you do, you greatly increase your baby’s future language skills. That includes vocabulary, rate of vocabulary growth, listening, speaking, semantics, syntax and, later, reading comprehension. The amount of talk that gets these results, according to a landmark study? Two-thousand, one hundred words per hour.

That number freaked me out. So I dug into the research as I wrote my new book, “Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.” Here’s the story:

Betty Hart tried everything she could think of to improve the vocabularies of the 4-year-olds in the low-income preschool where she was teaching. She couldn’t do it. Finally, she and Todd Risley, her graduate supervisor at the University of Kansas, figured out that, by age 4, it was too late.

They wanted to know why.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early education, Tracy Cutchlow

September 25, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Pre-K researcher offers answer to ‘Show me the money’

When debating bang-for-the-buck in early childhood education, most people focus on academic results. That is, improving the ability of kids to absorb what their teachers want them to learn. But the real prize is life outcomes, and on this, convincing evidence is harder to find.

As reported in the Times, a handful of preschool programs  in Michigan, North Carolina and Illinois — have tracked children through adulthood and found encouraging long-term benefits, particularly around decreased criminal involvement when students grow up. But those studies are decades old.

In 2011, however, researcher William Gormley published a paper projecting the future earnings of 4-year-olds in Tulsa, Okla., preschools and forecast that each would make an extra $27,179 to $30,148 over the course of their working lives. (Defined here as the time between age 22 and 66.)

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Comments | More in News | Topics: early education, pre-K

September 22, 2014 at 7:53 AM

Round-up: Our three-part series on early learning

Kennedy Daniels, left, and Stevie Jones, enrolled in the 3-year-old class at Tulsa Educare, build their burritos during lunchtime. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Kennedy Daniels, left, and Stevie Jones, enrolled in the 3-year-old class at Tulsa Educare, build their burritos during lunchtime. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Boosting the quality of preschool in Seattle could help children, and the city as a whole. A number of studies, including one from the ’60s, establish that potential. But there is no guarantee of success.

On Sunday and Monday, Education Lab published a series of three stories examining the merits and potential pitfalls of expanding subsidized pre-K in Seattle.


Comments | More in News | Topics: early education, pre-K, preschool

September 20, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Tell us: Do you support universal pre-K? Would you sign up?

Juan Martinez, left, and Katherine Gaytan, enrolled in Community Action Project's Disney School, play with magnetic building pieces in Tulsa, Okla. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Juan Martinez, left, and Katherine Gaytan, enrolled in Community Action Project’s Disney School, play with magnetic building pieces in Tulsa, Okla. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

This fall, Seattle voters will consider two ballot measures that seek to improve early education programs in the city, and make them affordable to all families.

One measure sponsored by the mayor and city council would focus on 3- and 4-year-olds, and include free tuition for families who earn less than 300 percent of federal poverty level. A competing plan, backed by two child-care unions, would cover children from infancy through age 5.


Comments | More in Question of the Week, Your voices | Topics: early education, pre-K, preschool

September 20, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Chat replay: What does ‘high-quality’ preschool look like?

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The proposals to expand and improve early education in Seattle raise many questions about what effective preschool looks like. And what does “high quality” mean, anyway?

The Education Lab team hosted a Google+ hangout on all things early education this on Sept. 23. The discussion was facilitated by reporter John Higgins.


Comments | More in Video, Your voices | Topics: early education, early learning, pre-K

September 20, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Guest: What early research can teach us about the merits of pre-K


Dale C. Farran

As cities like Seattle consider substantially expanding their public preschool programs, officials have turned to scientific research to help steer the decision-making process. But it’s important to remember that evidence for positive effects of pre-kindergarten comes primarily from studies of preschools that may not be very applicable to large-scale programs today.

One highly referenced study of preschool effectiveness, the Abecedarian Project, enrolled four cohorts of 14 infants from low-income homes between 1972 and 1977. The intervention began when infants were 6 weeks of age and lasted through age 5, when the children began kindergarten. I was part of the research team from 1974 until 1984.

The concerns of the 1970s are not those of today. Care for infants in groups was rare, and possible health problems were a major concern. As a consequence, Abecedarian infant and toddler classrooms were on the same floor as two pediatricians and a nurse practitioner who provided care to the participants. Interestingly, a recent Science magazine article presented long health benefits into adulthood for those who had participated in Abecedarian.

Another aspect that makes scaling Abecedarian difficult is that it operated nine hours a day, 12 months a year, and provided extensive services to the children and families involved. No programs being proposed today can match this level of intensity.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Abecedarian, early education, prek

September 18, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Coming Sunday: The promise and pitfalls of universal preschool

Starting Sunday, Education Lab presents a three-part series on early education. The stories will dive into the latest research on the benefits of preschool and offer an in-depth look at pre-K programs in Tulsa, Okla.  one of the few places in the country that provides universal preschool.

Look for the stories in print and online this coming Sunday and Monday. In the meantime, here is a video highlighting Tulsa’s approach to pre-K.

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Comments | More in News, Video | Topics: early education, pre-K, preschool

June 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Too many classroom decorations may distract youngest learners

Education experts sometimes tell parents that the way a teacher decorates his or her classroom may say something about that teacher’s ability. A good teacher, the thinking goes, will cover the walls with high-quality student work, meaningful projects and other resources.

But what if decorations, even those meant to serve an educational purpose, are doing more harm than good?

A new Carnegie Mellon University research paper suggests that, at least for young children, an over-decorated classroom can actually make it harder to learn.

The paper, published in Psychological Science, found that children in highly-decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed.

Here’s a short video of the report’s authors discussing their research, which also shows examples of both types of classrooms:


Comments | More in News | Topics: classroom decorations, early education, K12

May 15, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Guest: Here’s what quality pre-K looks — and sounds — like

matthew o'connor2

Matthew O’Connor

People in Seattle like to make noise — and the most recent NFL season proved it. The record-setting decibels produced by fans at CenturyLink Field are a point of pride in our city.

When opening the door to my pre-kindergarten classroom, a visitor is met with a similar wall of sound. A group of children in the classroom library is performing readers’ theatre, generating the “next chapter” of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

“Maybe Goldilocks writes a letter to the bears saying ‘I’m sorry for eating your food!’” says Sydnie. A separate group is constructing what the students have decided is a food-stirring machine out of wooden blocks. “Make sure the button says ‘start’ on it!” shouts Emile, calling across the classroom to Mekhi at the writing desk, who furrows his brow and places pencil to a scrap of purple paper, saying the word start to himself slowly to parse the sounds he hears. Mekhi later tapes this scrap to the food-stirring machine, and the group declares it complete and fully functional, although its purpose and product is still up for heated debate.

It is a frenetic scene to witness — some might even call it chaos. But it is a carefully orchestrated chaos, a barely restrained madness that, when all parts are moving just right, can result in powerful change for these students. This change is rooted in something so simple: words.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early education, early learning, Matthew O'Connor