Working together to champion early childhood readiness


Dean Catherine Emihovich


March 12, 2008



The explosion of knowledge across multiple disciplines has led to renewed interest in higher education to encourage faculty to seek out new partners for their research efforts, and to share ideas in “co-laboratories” designed for this purpose. In last month’s column, I mentioned the exciting news that we might receive external funding to renovate Norman Hall and the Annex to redesign our interior space to facilitate greater interdisciplinary collaboration both across the college and across campus. In a series of columns, beginning this month, I focus on describing interdisciplinary initiatives COE faculty and their partners are busily generating for creating new knowledge, recruiting outstanding students, and in this dreary budget climate, attracting new funding.

One area, early childhood readiness, is becoming increasingly important, given that the quality of life for young children is sharply incongruent with what might be expected from the world’s preeminent superpower. After a decade of decline, poverty rates for children from birth through age 6 are rising; between 2000 and 2005, the number of children under age 6 who were poor increased by 16 percent (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2007). Infant mortality rates are also rising, especially in the South with a clear link to race and class (New York Times, April 22, 2007). Schools with high percentages of poor or ethnically and linguistically diverse children struggle continually to meet AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) targets mandated by the No Child Left Behind federal law, and recent trends in positive achievement gains from state tests do not correspond to the more rigorous standards of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Reversing these dismal trends will require new collaborative partnerships, not just across disciplines in the academy, but with community groups, school districts and parent organizations. Over the past five years, faculty in the College of Education in three program areas (early childhood education, school psychology and special education), P.K. Yonge, and Baby Gator, along with graduate students, have developed innovative programs to address the needs of young children within a framework of engaged scholarship by building collaborative partnerships with school districts, community groups and health-care providers.

A recently funded Kellogg Foundation project, Ready Schools Florida, grounded in the principles of engaged scholarship, is an excellent example of the kind of interdisciplinary work that attracts interest from major donors. This highly innovative and transformative project features a collaborative partnership among three key players: the Miami-Dade School District, The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, and college faculty affiliated with the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning. According to Don Pemberton, the center’s director, “Ready Schools Florida is designed to craft and implement a credible, carefully documented approach that can enhance local and state efforts to improve child well-being and practice change in early learning and elementary education. At the heart of this work is the development and utilization of a set of replicable strategies that can serve as a model for the state and country to mobilize community investments in child health, well-being, and early development and learning. These strategies connect public schools, social-sector agencies, health and early learning organizations, governmental institutions, institutions of higher education and philanthropic entities to leverage resources and existing initiatives to produce improved outcomes for children and families.”

This initiative is tied to the vision of recreating universities in ways that enable them to build structural frameworks in support of improved quality of life and increased positive outcomes for children from birth through 8 years old. The goal is extraordinary, but given the extensive array of resources available in higher education, and a deepened sense of commitment among faculty and students to engage in solving complex social problems, we can imagine a better future for all children, and take the necessary steps to achieve it.

As John Dewey so eloquently stated, “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of the imagination.”

Dean Catherine Emihovich