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Frank Porter Graham Institute Launches Preschool Research and Design Center

Cross-posted on Inside School Research

The University of North Carolina's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute issued a birth announcement this week for a new center that will focus on designing, implementing, and evaluating pre-K and early-learning programs.

The National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center will also disseminate research on early-childhood education. Both the institute and the new center are based in Chapel Hill.

The announcement of the center comes on the heels of growing interest in expanding and introducing publicly funded pre-K programs. In this year's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for additional federal support for universal prekindergarten, noting that 30 states had raised pre-K funding on their own.

Frank Porter Graham senior scientist Ellen Peisner-Feinberg will direct the new center. In a news release, she stressed the importance of using "careful science" to ensure that publicly funded pre-K programs "serve all children, including those with disabilities, those at risk, and dual-language learners." The Center aims to help their clients achieve this goal.

"We'll help design, implement, and rigorously evaluate pre-K and early-learning programs," Peisner-Feinberg said. "We'll also disseminate evaluation findings to policymakers and other stakeholders."

Some of that research and evaluation is already occurring in the new center's  backyard. Frank Porter Graham's  Abecedarian Project is among the marquee names of well-studied preschool programs, up there with the HighScope's Perry Preschool program and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers Project. With Abecedarian, children born in 1972 through 1977 to low-income families were randomly assigned to either a high-quality early-education program that lasted from infancy to age 5 or to a control group. Researchers have continued to track the "children" into adulthood, identifying such benefits as increased rates of college graduation, lower rates of substance abuse, and better health

Abecedarian was an intensive intervention that has been criticized by some as a "boutique" option that bears little resemblance to contemporary, large-scale pre-K programs. But Frank Porter Graham has also studied big public interventions, such as pre-K programs in North Carolina and in Georgia. The results suggest that both programs have helped boost children's reading and math achievement. 

"The ongoing NC Pre-K evaluations clearly show the importance of strong program standards that use evidence-based indicators," Peisner-Feinberg said in the news release. "With new early-learning programs and 30 states already moving ahead on pre-K, research and evaluation will be essential to guiding design and ensuring quality."

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