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Supporting a Historic Expansion in Pre-K Through a University-Practice Partnership: Co-Developing an Educational Experiment for Policy and Practice

Fri, April 28, 10:35am to 12:05pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


Senior leaders in New York City (NYC) are currently undertaking arguably one of the most rapidly and broadly deployed educational policy initiatives in the nation by dramatically expanding universal pre-Kindergarten opportunities. Based on decades of research suggesting that early education is key to solving the problem of children’s risk of academic failure, NYC leaders in economic development, educational improvement, and early childhood education forged a remarkable political vanguard to offer “Pre-K for All” (PKA). Through PKA, the city hired approximately 1,000 teachers and expanded by approximately 50,000 pre-K slots over two years. A partnership forged between New York University (NYU) researchers and senior leaders in NYC in the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) at the Mayor’s office and the Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE) at the Department of Education, and supported by the Spencer Foundation, was intended to support research infrastructure and capacity-building solutions while also addressing jointly identified research questions about the program.

There are likely to be major benefits and risks for children entering the expanded PKA program. But one major educational challenge for NYC is that the research architecture by which leaders can quantitatively monitor those potential benefits and risks was, at the time of the program’s inception, only in its earliest stages. The focus of the three-year partnership has been fourfold: 1) to strengthen the research architecture so the City can monitor and assess the PKA initiative; 2) to present findings graphically to inform the City on questions of policy importance, 3) to map implementation of professional development across the City, and 4) to embed into the research infrastructure a pilot evaluation of the professional development system.

In this poster presentation, we highlight the strengths and challenges of our most recent partnership work together—embedding a pilot evaluation into DECEs professional development system. More specifically, the NYC Pre-K for All system of professional development for teachers involves the assignment of PKA sites to several professional development “tracks” that differ in the curriculum and training offered to teachers and site leaders. DECE is interested in evaluating the effects of one of these tracks—known as Explore—that combines an evidence-based math program with research-based interdisciplinary units. Our work together has entailed a careful review of the process by which sites are assigned to Explore and then co-constructing a design for the evaluation that leverages that process most effectively, while simultaneously working within the constraints of the city’s ongoing system of quality improvement.

Our larger aim in these partnership activities is to catalyze work that provides “rapid turnaround” decision-making on the part of NYC policy leaders. Together, we plan to co-develop educational experiments that meet standards of rigor, efficiency, and timeliness and thus make science “work” more effectively for policy decision-making. Such innovative studies, we believe, are best built on the foundation of partnership trust and research infrastructure that are key components of this collaborative project.