of the Curry School
clear from our data that schools are doing a good job in
the social and emotional support component of the classroom
environment. Its also apparent that schools need to
reach an understanding concerning the degree to which the
instructional component of that environment ought to be
emphasized as well. Its a really challenging thing
to do, but necessary if were going to hold students
accountable for what they are learning starting in third
William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor of Education
Study finds wide variation in children's
experiences with first-grade classrooms
conducting a national early child care study have
released findings that show little consistency across classrooms
on what constitutes an appropriate first-grade instructional program
or educational experience. In fact, students experiences
in first-grade classrooms vary as much as their skills do, said
Robert Pianta, the William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor in the Curry
School of Education, who is among some 30 researchers nationwide
conducting this 10-year study for the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development.
study also revealed that child care centers and high quality child
care of all types benefit preschoolers in language and memory
skills, noted Pianta, U.Va.s lead researcher on the study,
who presented findings on school readiness at the biennial meeting
of the Society for Research in Child Development in Minneapolis
April 19-20. However, children who spend fewer hours in such child
care show fewer behavior problems, he said.
study took an unparalleled look at school readiness from both
sides of school entry, Pianta said. We examined the
antecedent conditions of readiness skills before children go to
school. We then made comprehensive observations of the first-grade
classrooms role in supporting those skills.
enrolled 1,300 children at birth in 10 cities 10 years ago throughout
the United States. In Charlottesville and the other areas, parents
and their newborns were recruited for the project while they were
still in the hospital. Researchers studied them in several child-care
arrangements, from the most informal (with relatives) to the most
formal (center care). The researchers have followed the children
through their infant, toddler and preschool years and now into
researchers, observing 827 children in public and private first-grade
classrooms for about three hours at the start of each school day,
determined that for the first-grade program study:
Children in different classrooms are exposed to a very wide range
of experiences and activities. Many involve a teacher leading
a large group in a literacy-related activity. During this morning
observation, teachers spent much of the time managing the childrens
involvement in academic work and somewhat less time involved in
directly teaching academic skills.
Children are more engaged in an assigned activity and more positive
when classrooms are rated as more supportive instructionally
A teachers experience and formal education, as well as class
size, do not relate meaningfully to the observed quality of the
classroom environment. The researchers did find small links between
a teachers education and total years teaching first grade
and the teachers sensitivity to childrens needs and
providing appropriate academic instruction.
For the most part, teachers and classrooms were rated as positive
toward and supportive of children.
associated research, the effects of quality child care as they
relate to intellectual and language development and on the development
of preschool skills were apparent not only in a childs first
three years, but also by the time children reach 41û2.
found children receiving more language stimulation from their
caregivers attained higher scores on intellectual and language
tests than did those with less language stimulation in child care.
They also reported that children who watch more television received
lower test scores in arithmetic and had smaller vocabularies and
more behavior problems.
the study found that children 41û2 years old and older who spent
more time in child care when younger, were rated by caregivers,
their mothers and kindergarten teachers as having more behavior
problems than did those the same age who spent less time in child
care, although these problems were not at high or serious levels.
Researchers found the children with fewer hours in childcare were
rated as less aggressive and less disobedient and defiant than
would be expected, Pianta noted. Statistically, 17 percent of
children who spent over 30 hours a week in child care demonstrated
problem behaviors by the time they were 4 1û2 to 6. Only 6 percent
of those who spent less than 10 hours a week in such care had
the same problems. The average time that children spent in child
care between the ages of 3 months and 41û2 years was 26 hours
last weeks announcement of the studys findings, which
have not gone through the peer-review process or been published
yet, researchers noted that asking parents to work fewer hours
and spend more time with their children usually meant a loss of
family income, which also adversely affects children.
findings dont in any way have direct implications for whether
parents should or should not have their children in child care,
because the associations we observe are quite small, Pianta
said. Having a child in child care can produce benefits
to the family that are important for everybody, including [increased
family] income and added resources that come with that income,
including1 the ability to afford a high quality child care experience,
clear from our data that schools are doing a good job in the social
and emotional support component of the classroom environment.
Its also apparent that schools need to reach an understanding
concerning the degree to which the instructional component of
that environment ought to be emphasized as well. Its a really
challenging thing to do, but necessary if were going to
hold students accountable for what they are learning starting
in third grade, Pianta said, referring to the recently implemented
Standards of Learning.
February 2000, U.Va. received a $2.5 million grant from the National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development to continue this
childhood development research for another five years. This will
take the children into their early teen years.
NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health, the biomedical
research arm of the federal government. The institute sponsors
research on development before and after birth; maternal, child
and family health; reproductive biology and population issues;
and medical rehabilitation. More information about NICHD is available