By high-quality early intervention services, we mean that early care and education provided to children through these programs should consistently reflect the current knowledge base regarding child development. It is important for all children to have quality child care and preschool services. However, to narrow the gap in school readiness among children at high risk for poor developmental outcomes and their lower-risk peers, carefully designed programs that support the development of self-regulation, social skills, and language and reasoning skills are critical.

While we know much about the types of experiences young children need for healthy development and we know that early intervention can improve outcomes, improving the quality of early childhood programs on a large scale will require that we refine our knowledge base in ways that are directly useful to early intervention efforts and bridge the chasm between what we know and what we do. This will require a sustained vision and a rigorous research and development effort that transforms knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work into field-tested program content, supporting materials, and professional development. This is not likely to happen with current funding levels.

Recommendation EC.2: The committee recommends that the federal government launch a large-scale, rigorous, sustained research and development program in an institutional environment that has the capacity to bring together excellent professionals in research, program development, professional development, and child care/preschool practice.

Among its efforts, the research and development program should:

  1. fund projects to incorporate usable knowledge about early childhood development into field-tested curricula, educational tools, and professional development materials for early childhood teachers and classrooms;

  2. focus on areas with high potential for providing knowledge that can lead to prevention of disabilities and special education identification and the enhancement of gifted behaviors;

  3. systematically examine the comparative benefits associated with different early early intervention models and the developmental pathways through which those results were produced;

  4. conduct comprehensive re-analyses of longitudinal data sets to obtain clues about why some programs have succeeded and others have failed. While the results of longitudinal studies are now well known, the data have not been fully probed for an understanding of the components of both success and failure; and

  5. explore whether some subgroups of participants in early intervention programs have benefited/are benefiting differentially.

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