COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State University has received a $6 million federal grant to help determine if professional development for preschool teachers in Ohio will translate into better-prepared kindergarten students.
The grant from the U.S Department of Education will allow researchers to study 900 early childhood teachers in the state who complete specially designed professional development courses developed by the Ohio Department of Education and the Early Childhood Quality Network (ecQ-net), located at Ohio State. The goal is to see if these courses can affect teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and practices.
At the same time, 4,800 of these teachers’ students will be monitored during preschool and then again in kindergarten to see if training for teachers leads to improved foundational skills for reading.
“We want to find out the extent to which professional development for preschool teachers actually impacts children’s gains in the classroom,” said Shayne Piasta, leader of the new project, and the assistant director of Ohio State’s Children’s Learning Research Collaborative.
The project, called APPLE:Ohio (Assessing Preschool Professionals’ Learning Experiences), is designed to help improve educational experiences at a key point in children’s lives, said Piasta.
“The more we learn about early development, the more we realize this is a critical time period for learning. The more we can do to support the teachers who guide preschoolers, the better off our entire education system will be,” she said.
Piasta noted that in Ohio, like most other states, there are not uniform requirements and standards required of early childhood educators across the many different learning settings. EcQ-net’s and ODE’s professional development program is one strategy aimed at helping teachers become better in developing learning strategies and support for young learners.
“There is a lot of variability in the types of professional preparation that preschool teachers have and the credentials that they have. Every state has minimum criteria, but even those are very different from requirements for teaching in public schools,” she said.
Ohio has offered these professional development courses for preschool teachers for about the past five years, Piasta said, and is one of the few states that have such a variety of opportunities available statewide. That is why the federal government is interested in seeing if these courses are effective.
“If Ohio is having a lot of success with professional development for preschool teachers, and we can document that success in our study, then Ohio can be a model for other states to follow,” she said.
The professional development courses are provided by ecQ-net and funded by the Ohio Department of Education.
“We have been pleased to partner with ODE over the last five years to develop this program and are excited about the opportunity to participate in a statewide evaluation of its effects,” said Dennis Sykes, Director of ecQ-net at Ohio State. “We are hopeful that the APPLE:Ohio project will make a significant contribution to the knowledge base concerning the effectiveness of large scale professional development programs for early childhood educators.”
EcQ-net offers preschool teachers from across the state learning opportunities in different content areas. The seminars, which are free to teachers, are generally 10 sessions (30 hours), and are led by faculty who have undergone required orientation and training and have extensive experience in the content and in adult education.
In the APPLE:Ohio study, teachers will be randomly assigned to one of three different professional development selections run by ecQ-net, and the researchers will compare how teachers – and some of their students -- fare as a result of this special training.
Teachers will be enrolled in the study in autumn of each of the next four years, Piasta said. The researchers are looking for all types of early childhood teachers – credentialed and non-credentialed, suburban, urban and rural, those who work for private centers and even those who provide home-based care. Teachers can find more information on enrollment in these courses at http://www.ecqnet.org.
“We want to find out if these professional development courses are effective and, if so, which ones do the most to help teachers and their students,” Piasta said.
“It is an opportunity to shape early childhood education across the state.”