Conference explores early childhood education issues

The “U” helped host the conference, which drew scholars from across the nation.

This past weekend, researchers from universities across the country converged in Minneapolis to lend insight on the other end of the academic spectrum – early-childhood education.

The conference, “Critical Issues in Cost Effectiveness in Children’s First Decade,” was held Friday and Saturday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Hosting the conference was the Early Childhood Research Collaborative, which includes the University’s Center for Early Education and Development and the bank.

Michelle Englund, a University researcher in child development, said it’s important to get the information out, and “to share it with both the public and with funding agencies.”

Researchers from schools such as the University of Chicago, Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Colorado also discussed their findings on various early education programs from across the country. One such program was Head Start, which operates at a national level and prepares young children for school.

The discussions focused on four main themes: What stage of child development the program is aimed at, the cost effectiveness, focus and the scale of the program.

Arthur Reynolds, professor of child development at the University and co-director of the research collaborative, said he was proud to get discussion started by so many scholars.

“We’re talking about interventions and programs that have helped children,” he said. “(We) need to keep refining these programs and keep building.”

Richard Weinberg, a professor in the University’s Institute of Child Development, said the Early Childhood Research Collaborative has made a bridge between the business community and the academic community.

“It has really created a unique opportunity,” he said. “We really have viewed this as a very important step.”

Weinberg added that researchers face the challenges of both educating the public about the necessity of early education programs and receiving public funding.

Lisa Cariveau, the early education project coordinator at St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s office, attended the conference so she could bring back ideas to the policy table.

She said one of the city’s main concerns was how to address a widening education gap between different classes, particularly between white students and black students. That topic was discussed during the conference.

“I think that’s the biggest thing – how to level the playing field,” Cariveau said.

Another concern discussed during the conference came from David Olds, a developmental psychology professor at the University of Colorado.

He warned other researchers to make sure they invest enough time in developing their methods before going off and doing research.

“So often, people will rush out poor programs and get them widely disseminated,” he said. “I think that’s a disservice to the field, generally.”

Rob Grunewald, a University graduate student and an associate economist at the Federal Reserve Bank, said the bank’s involvement was important because looking at cost-effectiveness is a crucial issue.

He said the collaboration between the bank and the University was born out of a longstanding relationship between the two. He added that he was excited about the future of research in the field.

“I think the breadth and depth of papers at this conference show the effectiveness of the collaboration,” Grunewald said.