Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Approach to This Review

12/15/2009

Principal investigators submitted papers, presentations, and posters representing 15 projects.  Twelve projects (all but LA ExCELS, and the articles by Fantuzzo, Bulotsky-Shearer, McDermott, McWayne, & Perlman (2007) and Powell, Burchinal, File, & Kontos (2008)) were reports of the effects of specific training interventions that also included details concerning professional development activities.  While we draw lessons from all the projects, we focus most on these 12 projects.  Further, four projects submitted studies in which PD strategies (e.g., mentoring versus non-mentoring; mentoring of different intensity) were tested explicitly.  Table 1 lists the 15 projects reviewed, the 12 with relevant data regarding PD, and the 4 that explicitly compared PD strategies (Lets Begin with the Letter People/Doors to Discovery; Literacy Express; MyTeachingPartner; and Building Language for Literacy).  This review highlights findings from these four projects, although results from all the studies were examined for patterns related to PD or workplace and teacher characteristics associated with the effects of PD on teacher practices, program quality, or child outcomes.

Table 1.
Projects Included in Review
Project
(Principal Investigator)
Did Submitted Studies Include Details and Results of PD? Did Submitted Studies Explicitly Compare PD Strategies?
Project Upgrade (Abt Associates) Yes No
Head Start REDI (Bierman) Yes No
EPIC (Fantuzzo) No No
Early Literacy and Learning Model (Fountain) Yes No
Project ExCELS (Howes) No No
Language-Focused Curriculum (Justice) Yes No
Lets Begin with the Letter People/Doors to Discovery (Landry) Yes Yes
Literacy Express (Lonigan) Yes Yes
Childrens School Success  (Odom ) Yes No
MyTeachingPartner (Pianta) Yes Yes
Project Approach  (Powell) No No
Building Language for Literacy (Ramey & Ramey) Yes Yes
Chicago School Readiness Project  (Raver) Yes No
Getting Ready (Sheridan) Yes No
Pre-K Mathematics (Starkey) Yes No

Appendices 1-12 provide detailed information regarding the projects and submitted studies, including methods, measures, the PD strategies employed, and results. Briefly, the highlights of these appendices and the main implications for this review are as follows:

  • Study design (see Appendix C.1):  While 11 of 12 projects employed randomized trial designs, only the four mentioned above were designed to hold curriculum constant, making it possible in those four studies to assess the effects of PD strategies without confounding them with the effects of the curriculum.
  • Sample sizes (see Appendix C.1) ranged from 6 to 55 per group for analyses at the classroom level, and from 6 to 89 at the teacher level, with much larger groups for analyses at the child level.  For some of the teacher/classroom-level analyses, therefore, small sample sizes may limit finding significant effects or the generalizability of results.
  • PD as a package of strategies:  Most projects typically employed one or more of several PD strategies as their in-service training approach (see Table 2). For most projects, therefore, it is not possible to determine which of the specific strategies in their PD package might be exerting more, less, or any effect on teacher practices or child outcomes. The most commonly employed strategies were workshops and coaches/mentors who worked with teachers to help them implement what they learned via workshops.
  • Important factors not described. Since most of these studies were not designed as tests of PD approaches, they did not describe factors that might influence the effectiveness of the PD. For example, the studies did not always describe the qualifications of coaches/mentors/trainers, the PD they received, whether teachers and assistant teachers were both trained as part of the projects (see Appendix C.6), or the PD provided to control groups (see Appendix C.1). This makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about these factors.
  • Mapping results onto the logic model, and measuring changes in implementation and teacher behavior. The logic model in Figure 1 suggests that training can be delivered for three purposes (to improve teacher practices, to help teachers implement a curriculum, and to train coaches). Most of the projects report results both for implementation of a curriculum and for improving teacher practices (see Appendix C.9). In some studies, the measures used to assess the implementation of the curriculum are conceptually similar to measures used to assess changes in classroom practices (e.g., a measure of the implementation of a curriculum designed to promote early language might be the extent to which teachers used open-ended questions to promote conversation and vocabulary, but that might also be considered a measure of change in teacher behavior). In this review, we report the effects of PD on implementation and teacher behavior separately, but we note that there is some conceptual overlap.
  • Workplace characteristics. All 12 projects took place primarily (though not solely) in settings that serve low-income children, including Head Start, publicly-funded preschool, and/or community child care programs (see Appendix C.4). However, it is not clear if projects used terms consistently (e.g., a setting might be described as a Title I program in one study but a school-based preschool program in another), which limits the conclusions that can be drawn regarding the effects of auspices. Other workplace characteristics such as incentives to encourage participation in training (see Appendix C.5) and teacher turnover were described less frequently.
  • Teacher characteristics. Projects differed in the extent to which they described the characteristics of participating teachers (see Appendix C.7). Most of the teachers described were either Caucasian or African-American and English-speaking. In the half of the projects that reported on teachers educational level or experience, most teachers had BAs or degrees higher than BAs, which may limit the extent to which these results generalize to the broader early childhood workforce, especially those in non-school-based settings.
  • Emerging research. The studies submitted for this review represent only some of the federally-funded research that is relevant. More studies are forthcoming, both for the projects included in the review and for others (e.g., QUINCE), and many more details regarding PD and its effects will undoubtedly become available.
Table 2.
Strategies for Professional Development
Project Name Initial Workshop Refresher Workshop Ongoing Access to Web-Based Materials Coaches/
Mentors
Reflection with Coaches Reflection with Peers/
Group Discussion
Project Upgrade X X   X    
Head Start REDI X X   X X  
Early Literacy and Learning Model X     X X X
Language-Focused Curriculum X X        
Lets Begin with the Letter People/Doors to Discovery X X   X    
Literacy Express X     X (in one study)    
Childrens School Success X X   X    
MyTeachingPartner X   X X (on-line) X  
Building Language for Literacy X     X   X
Chicago School Readiness Project X (5 Saturdays)     X    
Getting Ready X X   X X X
Pre-K Mathematics X X (new content)   X    

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