Volume 11 Number 1
©The Author(s) 2009
Early Childhood Faculty and the Language of Research—Evidence for Improvement:
A Response to Hyson et al.
This study reveals several aspects of early childhood teacher preparation that should be of concern to all professional educators. Although there are two methodological shortcomings that are identified by the authors, namely the sample itself and the nature of self-reporting by respondents, the findings still warrant serious consideration. I will focus my comments on two areas: (1) faculty use of research and theory and (2) patterns in program climate and support.
Faculty Use of Research and Theory
For the past decade or so, educational program, policy, and practice development has been predicated on scientific evidence-based research. Funding decisions, curriculum adoptions, program regulations, and learning standards are increasingly tied to credible research findings. In order to function effectively in this climate, early childhood teacher educators should be thoroughly knowledgeable about both the range of research methodologies and their respective strengths and weaknesses as well as current findings within the field. Based on the results of this faculty survey, many early childhood faculty in institutions of higher education lack a basic understanding of what constitutes research.
During my 30 years in this field and 13 years as a faculty member in a large early childhood education teacher preparation program, I have found that this lack of scholarly depth has contributed to decreased status within the "academy." Early childhood faculty have long fought the battle over respect, position, and a fair share of dwindling resources. This confusion about the definition of research and theory inevitably leads to an inability to teach research approaches within our programs and to apply research findings effectively within our institutions. Perhaps this reported weakness of early childhood faculty is linked to the second area of concern—program climate and support.
Patterns in Program Climate and Support
Clearly, early childhood faculty have deplorable working conditions; they teach too many courses without sufficient institutional support. Yet we continue to bear heavy teaching loads and persevere despite feeling unappreciated and overburdened. In order to improve our working conditions and elevate our status within institutions of higher education, we must effectively wield the tools of scholarship—for the ability to use, apply, conduct, and construct arguments based on scientific research is the language of the academy. Without this ability, it would be difficult to advocate for the value of our work. Educational institutions, both school districts and higher education, need to be persuaded of the critical nature of early childhood, the wisdom of investing shrinking resources in the education of very young children, and the contribution of our efforts to the larger institutional success. Currently, we are in a very strong position with more credible, rigorous research from multiple disciplines about the efficacy of early childhood education; this convincing research has been used effectively to put early childhood at the top of most federal and state policy agenda. This study highlights the need to make sure that all early childhood faculty are re-schooled on the nature of educational research. I would suggest that as this weakness is transformed into a strength, early childhood educators will become more empowered to advocate for improved working conditions and increased philosophical and financial support.
Dr. Linda M. Espinosa, recently retired professor of early childhood education at the University of Missouri, Columbia, served as the co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University from 2002 to 2003. Her recent research and policy work has focused on effective curriculum and assessment practices for young children from low-income families who are dual-language learners. She currently serves as the co-chair of the First Five, Los Angeles County Universal Preschool Research Advisory Committee. Dr. Espinosa previously served on the Head Start National Reporting System (NRS) Technical Advisory Group. She is the author of From Research to Practice: Getting IT RIGHT for Children from Diverse Backgrounds, to be published spring 2009 by Merrill/Pearson. She participated on the National Academy of Sciences Research Roundtable on Head Start. Dr. Espinosa also was a contributing author to Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers, published by the National Academies of Science.