Feature

The time is right for furthering psychologists' research on preschool education and cognitive development: The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have unveiled a five-year, $50 million-plus effort to expand research on early childhood cognitive development and put that research into action through Head Start and other federally funded programs for preschoolers.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson announced the research initiative at the White House Summit on Early Child-hood Cognitive Development--"Ready to Read, Ready to Learn," held July 26­27 and co-hosted by first lady Laura Bush, Paige and Thompson. The Department of Education and HHS will work together on a task force that will develop a research program that will lead to strategies for better preparing pre-school-age children for academic success.

The announcement topped off the White House summit, which aimed to raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood cognitive development in learning readiness and highlight ways parents and educators can better prepare children for school.

"Although we know much about how to prepare our children for success, too many of our preschool programs are not doing a good job of preparing disadvantaged children for school," Paige said at the summit.

The meeting featured the research and recommendations of some of the nation's top early childhood learning specialists, including psychologists G. Reid Lyon, PhD, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and Grover Whitehurst, PhD, the newly appointed assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement. Also participating in the summit were APA President Norine G. Johnson, PhD, and APA's Executive Director for Education Cynthia Belar, PhD.

Issues and themes that emerged included the need to build a knowledge base on children's cognitive development that reflects diversity, and the importance of more research on the education and professional development preschool educators need. Participants also discussed poverty's contribution to children's literacy and low motivation to learn, and the need to find ways to help vulnerable children enter school with well-developed language and literacy skills.

Filling these research holes and others is the main task of the interagency task force, says Whitehurst, who will play a key role in the research initiative. He says its goal is for fewer children to start school so far behind they can't catch up, and to "get them ready for a lifetime of learning."

Developmental psychologist Melissa Welch-Ross, PhD, of NICHD, is coordinating the interagency research initiative and says the task force will host workshops and discussions with researchers and practitioners in early childhood education and identify research priorities this year.

The Bush administration has invited APA to provide names of psychologists with research expertise in education, says APA's Belar. Meanwhile APA's Center for Psychology in Schools and Education and Education Policy Office are actively working with the U.S. Department of Education to advance psychology's contribution to the initiative.

Johnson says the summit and the new initiative have created countless opportunities for psychologists. "This is an area where we will see expanding opportunities for both the science and practice of psychology within public and private educational settings."