Speaking of Education

Psychological research was in the forefront at the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development, co-hosted by first lady Laura Bush, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and Secretary of Education Rod Paige. During the White House reception, APA President Norine G. Johnson and I had several opportunities to express to both President and Mrs. Bush APA's strong support for the advancement of psychological science and its application to education.

After welcoming remarks, the first presentation was by newly confirmed Assistant Secretary of Education Russ Whitehurst, formerly of the department of psychology, SUNY-Stony Brook. He described research regarding the pre-reading skills that children acquire in the preschool period, the implications of skill acquisition for later learning and the use of developmentally appropriate interventions to enhance pre-reading skills.

The final presentation was also by a psychologist: G. Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (see article in July/August Monitor) emphasized the Bush administration's commitment to a science-based approach to education policy and teacher education. In addition, Paige and Thompson used the summit to announce collaborative efforts between the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to further the agenda for school readiness through identification of best practices and support for clinical trials research.

With this emphasis on scientific evidence and accountability, I was reminded of the early days of the health-care revolution, with its increased focus on evidence-based practice, greater scrutiny of provider education and training, and the development of practice guidelines. I also wondered which of the issues and trends associated with a changing health-care system would be associated with education reform. Increasingly, we are seeing an intersection of the health and education reform, which has significant implications for psychology.

Convergence of health and education

Health is important to individual learning and our educational systems, and education is important to individual health status and the health-care system. For example, education is related to socioeconomic status, one of the most robust predictors of health status (see article on page 78). Moreover, lack of achievement in skills such as reading can be linked to later social and emotional health problems, as well as such health problems that might derive from inability to read medicine prescriptions.

Of interest is that health-care analysts have written that when managed care serves 70 to 80 percent of a population it will discover that it is really in the public health business. Predictions include increased resource allocation to health-risk management and a shift in focus from hospital/clinics to the home/neighborhood as the interests of health plans, public health, community agencies and schools increasingly converge. Some markets have already seen similar changes.

Psychology's potential

Psychology as a discipline and a profession is particularly well-suited to facilitate the bridging of health and education in our society. The science of behavior is fundamental to both, and we have researchers, educators and practitioners who are deeply involved in one or the other domain (some in both). But will we reach our potential if we do not do more in our education and training to promote cross-collaboration among faculty and students?

On our campuses I repeatedly hear of psychologists and students in departments of education and departments of psychology who have little contact with each other. I am also aware that although its roots are in psychology, the "science of learning" does not have a placeholder for psychology as a discipline, and much of what is psychological science is not labeled as such. As teacher education becomes one of the priorities in higher education, this linkage is especially important to psychology's health as a core discipline in education.

Overall, I am excited by the recognition of psychological science as an important contributor to education reform. As our public demands more accountability from its institutions, there is more need for applied research on societally relevant problems and the translation of research findings to practice. Psychological science has already informed us that the development of cognitive abilities is inextricably intertwined with social and emotional development. We must extend this knowledge while applying what we currently know. We must also recognize the increasing intersection of health and education, and provide relevant training opportunities for future psychologists to prepare them to bridge these domains. Internally we are rich with resources. Let us pay attention to the fact that two of the largest federal agencies have chosen to collaborate in order to address the needs of our preschool citizens.

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