Current Projects


The Northwestern Family Engagement Study 

Northwestern_SESP_early childhood education_terri sabol_the deep lab_school readiness

Funded by the McCormick Foundation

Need for Strengthening the Measurement of Family Engagement in QRIS

The goal of this project is to help build and strengthen Illinois’ Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and become a national model for how to define and measure family engagement. Over the past decade, policymakers have dramatically expanded investment in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as a way to assess and improve the quality of early childhood education settings. QRIS push beyond basic individual state license requirements by using a set of quality indicators, typically based on community definitions, to rate the quality of programs.

Nearly every state in the country includes family engagement as one indicator of quality for their QRIS. Family engagement involves the activities and strategies by early childhood education centers to engage and support families. These family-oriented activities are an important component of early childhood education quality, which is likely why so many QRIS include it. Yet, there is a weak evidence base for states to draw upon when developing measures for family engagement in these rating systems.

Using a Two-Generation Framework to Define and Measure Family Engagement

Recognizing the importance of parents for child wellbeing, early childhood education programs often provide direct services to support parent wellbeing, such as parenting classes or education and career training. This two-generation approach uses early childhood education as a platform to simultaneously promote parent and child wellbeing. Although centers’ support of parents is considered an important element of early childhood education quality, we surprisingly have no systematic data on these parent focused activities. Moreover, we have little understanding from early childhood providers on the types of services they would like to offer to parents and the barriers to providing services as well as parents’ perspectives about the key services that they need to support their own skill development.

Key Design Elements of Study

We implement a mixed-methods study in Illinois’ QRIS to examine (1) the types of center support services that exist in Illinois; (2) barriers and opportunities to providing direct services to parents; and (3) the extent to which these activities relate to child wellbeing. Our study includes three main activities:

  1. Focus groups that emphasize the voices of providers and parents
  2. Provider survey on the types of services centers provide to parents
  3. Parent survey on their own education, income, employment, and household characteristics


The Internet School Neighborhood Assessment Protocol (iSNAP)

We build on methodology of Candice C. Odgers and colleagues to more closely understand the relationship between early education outcomes and school neighborhoods. The iSNAP, developed in partnership with Dana C. McCoy and Emily C. Hanno at Harvard Graduate School of Education, is a guide for systemic social observation (SSO) of school grounds and their surrounding neighborhoods. Using Google Street View, coders virtually “walk” around a school, coding for developmentally relevant attributes within the direct school grounds and proximal neighborhood. These data are then aggregated into indices and scales, used to characterize the built environment in statistical models. The iSNAP can be used for detecting heterogeneity across implementation and effectiveness of education policies and programs.
The iSNAP User Guide, Codebook, and tutorial videos are available for download on the iSNAP website.


Measuring Children’s Internal Representations Using the Child-Parent-School Puppet Interview 

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Our lab is working to advance the measurement of interpersonal experiences to support the modeling of complex psychological and social processes among families, schools, and children. Existing measurement tools often fail to account for young children’s own perspectives of their environment. We are developing a novel measure of children’s internal representations of parents and school, the Child-Parent-School Puppet Interview (adapted from the Berkeley Puppet Interview) to explore how young children understand their parents’ education and employment behaviors. The tChild-Parent-School Puppet Interview uses two puppets to present opposing statements about each of the key topics. The child is then asked to identify the puppet that is most like them. For example, one puppet says, “I like school,” and the other puppet says, “I do not like school.” The child indicates which puppet is most like them by pointing at the puppet, saying the name of the puppet or repeating the statement that is most like them.

This new measure is being piloted in the CAP Family Life Study, an ongoing, quasi-experimental study on the effect of a two-generation program that provides parents with education and training in healthcare while their children attend Head Start. We are examining the relations among parents’ human capital, parenting skills, and the home environment and how children subsequently make meaning of family and school experiences.

Contexts Inside and Outside of School Walls as Predictors of Differential Effectiveness in Preschool Professional Development 

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The “Contexts Inside and Outside of School Walls as Predictors of Differential Effectiveness in Preschool Professional Development” study is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Dana McCoy (Assistant Professor) and her research team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This study is funded by the Institute for Education Sciences.

In this project, we aim to build the early childhood education evidence base by identifying and understanding the conditions under which professional development programs are more versus less effective in improving early childhood classroom quality and child learning outcomes. We will leverage cutting-edge statistical approaches to quantify the distribution of the effects of a professional development intervention (Bloom & Weiland, 2015; Raudenbush & Bloom, 2015).  We will then explore whether variation in treatment effects is predicted by characteristics within school walls, such as the composition of students; teacher qualifications and psychological characteristics; and center structural characteristics (e.g., enrollment size).

In addition, we will explore whether variation in treatment effects is predicted by characteristics outside of school walls. The framework for understanding early childhood intervention effects typically does not account for the quality of the environments that surround and support schools. To address this need, we will adapt an existing Systematic Social Observation (SSO) protocol to assess the characteristics of center neighborhoods and school grounds. The SSO provides a low-cost, reliable measurement tool that allows researchers to take a “virtual” walk through neighborhoods using publicly available neighborhood imaging. We will then examine whether the professional development intervention components are differentially effective in improving classroom quality and child outcomes based on neighborhood contexts.


Northwestern University Two-Generation Research Initiative

The DEEP lab is also collaborating on several mixed-methods studies run by the Two-generation Research Initiative at Northwestern. Two-generation programs programs link intensive, high-quality education, job training, and career-building programs for low-income parents with early childhood education services for their young children. For more details on the studies, see here.

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