A Closer Look at Early School Transition

By Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D.

Everyone is talking about "school readiness" these days. The mere sound of the phrase suggests that there is a solid foundation of research and professional knowledge to ensure that all children, those with and without special needs, can transition successfully from early care and preschool to kindergarten and the early grades. But the truth of the matter is that we are heading in the right direction, and some wonderful research efforts are underway to help define the essential ingredients of early transition.

As you visit the Web sites listed below and read through the information provided, try to keep these few key questions in mind:

  • Readiness for what, since no two home or school learning environments are the same?
  • What does it mean for a child to be ready for school?
  • What does it mean for a school to be ready for a child?
  • How are early care providers and early educators supposed to share information about such critical issues as early language development, emergent literacy skills, early math knowledge and personality and behavioral characteristics?
  • How can parents best prepare their children for a smooth transition to school, and what ongoing roles should they play to ensure ongoing success?

Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

An organization that evaluates programs designed to improve the well-being of young children and their families, particularly those at greatest risk in our society. Among their recent publications are topics including:

  • Examining Early Head Start
  • Understanding the Role of Low-Income Fathers
  • Promoting Substance-Free Communities
  • Studying the Special Needs of Teenage Parents
  • Analyzing Mother-Child Interactions
  • Empowering Parents
  • Improving Service Delivery for Children and Families

To learn more about these research papers and download copies of the papers, go to the Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Web site.

The Future of Children

A publication of The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution. The current edition of this quarterly publication is titled School Readiness: Closing Racial and Ethnic Gaps (Volume 15, Number 1 - spring 2005) and includes synthesis articles on topics including:

  • Assessment Issues in the Testing of Children at School Entry
  • Can Family Socioeconomic Resources Account for Racial and Ethnic Test Score Gaps?
  • Genetic Differences and School Readiness
  • Health Disparities and Gaps in School Readiness
  • The Contribution of Parenting to Ethnic and Racial Gaps in School Readiness

To view these articles and download copies, go to the Future of Children Web site.

The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

An organization engaged in a multi-year project to better understand what is ideal, what is practical, and what is essential in providing early high quality opportunities for young children. The Early Learning and School Readiness Program supports research that attempts to specify the experiences children need from birth to age eight to prepare them to learn, read, and succeed in school. In addition, the program seeks to identify early interactions with adults and peers, the early childhood education teaching methods and curricula, and comprehensive early childhood interventions that support learning and development, specifically in domains that prepare children from diverse backgrounds experiencing diverse environments for kindergarten and the early grades. Specific areas of research include:

  • The development of cognition, emergent literacy, language, numeracy and mathematics, social and emotional competence, metacognition and self-regulation, motor development, and physical health.
  • The development and evaluation of integrative and comprehensive early childhood curricula and programs to support learning and development for diverse populations of children in the areas listed above.

This NICHD effort supports cross-sectional and/or longitudinal research designed to specify cause-effect relationships between children's early experiences and the development of specific abilities and dispositions that lead to achievement, reading ability, social competence, and emotional well-being in kindergarten and early grades. It also seeks to enhance knowledge about the preparation, training, and professional development of persons involved in the care and education of young children, the effectiveness of training strategies in promoting the positive modes of interaction identified by the research, including the causal linkages between adult behavior and school readiness outcomes for young children.

Research Centers

The following are the eight research centers, the centers' lead investigators, and each center's primary research focus:

  • Pennsylvania State University, Karen L. Bierman, Ph.D.

    This site will compare curricula now in use in many Head Start classrooms to curricula based on the latest scientific findings. In all, 320 children from 40 randomly selected classrooms will be studied to see if the new curricula improve language development and social and emotional skills.

  • University of Pennsylvania, John W. Fantuzzo, Ph.D.

    This site will test curriculum for preschool children from low-income, urban families. The study will allow researchers to test the effectiveness of a new preschool curriculum focusing on reading, math, and the social and emotional needs of children.

  • University of California, Los Angeles, Carollee Howes, Ph.D.

    This site will focus on the educational needs of Latino children and will compare three types of early childhood programs: Head Start, private nonprofit preschools, and family day care networks. The study seeks to improve the interactions between children and their teachers and caregivers in order to better prepare them for school.

  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Janis B. Kupersmidt, Ph.D.

    This site will explore better ways of training preschool teachers in math and pre-literacy instruction. Participating teachers will receive training to help them meet children's needs in reading, math, and social and emotional skills.

  • Indiana University, Samuel L. Odom, Ph.D.

    This site will study how poverty, disability, and minority status may influence children's ability to learn, and will involve 600 at-risk preschool children in five locations across the country.

  • University of Virginia, Robert C. Pianta, Ph.D.

    This site will examine preschool teacher training and support through Internet-based technology. The training will focus on child literacy, language development and building social relationships. Four hundred classrooms will be involved.

  • University of Chicago, C. Cybele Raver, Ph.D.

    This site will identify ways to decrease the risks posed by behavior problems among a group of low-income preschool-aged children. Approximately 640 children will be involved at eight Head Start sites in Chicago. Researchers will examine how training for teachers, the presence of teacher's aides, and access to mental health professionals can benefit young children's school readiness.

  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Susan M. Sheridan, Ph.D.

    This study seeks to foster parental involvement in high-risk families. The goal of the study is to improve school readiness by improving interactions between parents and children in the home. The study will evaluate the overall benefits of a parent-focused intervention in both home and school environments.

For information about this program visit the NICHD Web site.

Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D. is the Director of Professional Services at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. This article first appeared as a Research Roundup column in LD News.

Read all Research Roundup Columns by Dr. Horowitz in the Research Roundup Archive.


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