For this edition of Quality Counts, the Commentary editors reached out to researchers and a policymaker, all of whom are known for their work in early-childhood education. These four contributors were asked:
What’s a research concern that we still need answered about early-childhood education?
What follows is Susan C. Faircloth’s response to this question. See more responses.
Research suggests that the quality of early-childhood education and care plays a critical role in helping to shape children’s school readiness, as well as their subsequent academic achievement. In effect, the more prepared students are to learn, the likelier they are to perform better academically. Unfortunately, the bulk of this strain of research fails to adequately acknowledge the role that schools must play in preparing children, particularly children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This oversight raises a number of important concerns and questions, including what does it mean for these students to be ready for school and what does it mean for schools to be ready for these students.
In the case of American Indian and Alaska Native children, “ready schools” reflect an ability and willingness to accommodate the tribal, cultural, and linguistic diversity of the more than 600 federally and state-recognized tribes and Alaska Native groups within the United States, as well as the indigenous languages (approximately 200 of them) that tribal members still speak today.
Although research is needed, it is important to acknowledge that research alone will not improve the educational conditions or subsequent outcomes for young American Indian and Alaska Native children. For research to truly make a difference in the lives of these children, researchers must collaborate with community and tribal members and practitioners who understand and value the role that language and culture play in developing and implementing effective early-childhood-education programs and practices that can be readily and widely translated and implemented.
In sum, research must answer the critically important question: What must schools do to be ready to educate, care for, and nurture young American Indian and Alaska Native children?