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$5.8 Million Federal Grant to Develop First Integrated Head Start Curriculum for Urban Preschoolers

Researchers at GSE plan to develop a first-ever integrated curriculum for preschoolers in Head Start classrooms across the country--encompassing literacy, numeracy and both school and social readiness skills.

Funded with a $5.8 million federal grant over five years, this project will be the first effort U.S. educators have made to provide disadvantaged children with an opportunity to overcome the academic challenges that research shows can plague them for their entire academic careers. This project, which represents the Bush administration investments in early childhood education, is funded by multiple federal sources through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Penn is one of only eight universities in the country to receive these grant funds.

"Head Start has never before benefited from an evidence-based, integrated curriculum," said Dr. John Fantuzzo, a psychologist and professor of education at GSE, who is the principal investigator in this study. "Head Start and other early childhood care programs have done well at addressing children--s comprehensive needs and giving them a sense of what school is about--we--re excited to add to that success by developing scientifically tested curricula that could help preschoolers get a leg up academically, and the curricula could be around long after we--re done with this research project."

The integrated curriculum will be developed, tested and refined in partnership with researchers and practitioners. It will be built upon empirical research in early literacy and language, early numeracy and social/emotional adjustment. Special attention will be paid to foundational approaches to learning and emotional development, and the differential family, classroom, and neighborhood contexts within which child development occurs.

"The strength of this proposal is the integration of these areas of research in the real preschool classroom environment, and in the families and cultures of urban Head Start children," Dr. Fantuzzo said.

The researchers will also investigate the efficacy of the curriculum with a randomized, longitudinal study over the five years.

Dr. Fantuzzo is joined in the research by GSE faculty with particular expertise in several core areas of the core curriculum: Dr. Douglas Frye, chair of GSE--s Psychology in Education Division specializing in numeracy; Dr. Vivian Gadsden, director of the National Center on Fathers and Families and GSE professor specializing in literacy; and Dr. Paul McDermott, GSE professor specializing in statistics, assessment and testing. Also participating in this project is Dr. Dennis Culhane, director of the Cartographic Modeling Laboratory and a professor at the School of Social Work, and an expert in urban demographics.

Dr. Fantuzzo and Dr. Culhane have partnered previously on the Kids Integrated Database System (KIDS), an integrated system that links the databases of Philadelphia--s many city administrative, social and health agencies. One of the few such systems in the country, KIDS allows for efficient exchange of information about more than 250,000 of the city--s children.

Access to KIDS, which is funded by the William Penn Foundation, will enable the researchers not only to study the effect of the curriculum on each child, but also to control the contextual factors, such as parents-- ages and education level or neighborhood crime rates and other stressors (drop-out rates, gang activity, school attendance problems).

Dr. McDermott said, "No one in the country has the kind of data that Penn--in partnership with the city of Philadelphia--has available."

 All of the GSE researchers have connections to local schools and to preschoolers. Dr. Fantuzzo has worked for 12 years with the city school district and in partnerships on Head Start, providing all sorts of evaluations and assessments. He was instrumental in securing significant funding from the William Penn Foundation for KIDS.

 

 


  Almanac, Vol. 50, No. 10, October 28, 2003

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