Educators and researchers increasingly recognize that high-quality early childhood programs are an important way to prepare disadvantaged children for later school success. One critical (and often overlooked) aspect of quality is addressing children’s ability to engage positively with peers and teachers and to focus their attention and behavior during classroom activities. Evidence suggests that improving young children’s emotional and behavioral adjustment is both an important outcome in its own right and can be a pathway to improved academic achievement for low- and high-risk children alike. In addition, challenging behavior may divert teachers’ attention from instructional time for all children in the classroom. This is not a peripheral problem in preschool classrooms, where a sizable minority of children have behavioral challenges. Preschool teachers often discuss the need for additional training in how to address these issues.
This report presents results from the Newark, New Jersey, site of the Foundations of Learning (FOL) Demonstration — an intervention and random assignment evaluation of a program aimed at equipping teachers with the skills and strategies they need to help guide children’s behavior and emotional development. The FOL intervention was tested in two cities — Newark and Chicago — and it combined teacher training in effective classroom management with weekly classroom consultation. In the Newark site, 51 preschool classrooms (one per center) serving primarily 4-year-old children were selected to participate in the study; 26 classrooms were randomly assigned to implement the FOL intervention, and 25 were assigned to conduct preschool as usual. Differences between the two groups were analyzed at the end of the intervention year and the following year to assess the added value of FOL over and above standard practice in preschool classrooms.
The evidence emerging from the Newark site shows that investments in teachers’ professional development improve children’s preschool experiences, although the long-term effects on children remain uncertain.
- FOL improved teachers’ ability to address children’s behavior and to provide a positive emotional climate in the classroom. It also improved teachers’ management of classroom time, their use of engaging teaching methods, and the amount of instructional time that children experienced in their classrooms.
- Based on ratings by independent trained observers, FOL reduced children’s conflicts with teachers and peers and increased their levels of engagement in the learning tasks of preschool, but it did not otherwise change the quality of teacher-child or peer interactions.
- Based on limited data for the year following the intervention, very few of the intervention’s effects on children were sustained as they entered kindergarten classrooms. However, teachers who were trained in the intervention appear to continue to engage in the positive practices they learned.
Additional publications on this intervention will be released in the coming years. This will complement information emerging on other promising social-emotional interventions currently being tested in preschool classrooms, providing extensive information to policymakers and practitioners about where to put their attention in efforts to improve preschool quality.