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How Research Amplifies Early Childhood Education

December 15, 2023
Updated February 2, 2024

In the spring of 2023, we launched the new Educare Research Agenda on Advancing Racial Equity – a plan to guide our collective inquiry, interrogate policies and systems, and ultimately share learnings to transform the early childhood field.

Since then, researchers throughout the Network have continued to evaluate our programs, exchange knowledge, and collaborate as a generative community of peers and partners, striving for better child and family outcomes and more equitable access to early learning and care.

Recently, Cynthia Jackson, Dr. Amanda Stein, and Dr. Iheoma Iruka at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC Chapel Hill joined The Everything ECE Podcast to discuss not only the research agenda, but also the importance of research in early childhood education as a whole.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

  • “Our schools are located in diverse communities, typically those that have been historically under-resourced or disinvested. We have a commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, and really want to focus on coherence across the Network in our research efforts. It’s critical that we invest our time and expertise in really understanding the systems, structural barriers, [and more] that impact our children, families, and staff that work in these communities. That’s the genesis of where our focus is with the research agenda.” (Cynthia Jackson)
  • “When I think about the Educare Learning Network, it’s more than an initiative. It has influence on one of our major federal programs, Head Start […] it’s able to influence early childhood programs to think about research at large and really confront the history of early childhood education, particularly for Black communities, for under-represented, under-resourced communities, and make sure early childhood education delivers on the promise of trying to provide a high-quality program for children and families in the communities they live in. [Educare] is really trying to foster a much stronger and vibrant education system.” (Dr. Iheoma Iruka)
  • “Although our [research] agenda includes sample questions, making them ‘sample’ means we’re allowing for questions, innovations, methods, and measures to be guided by locally- and nationally-identified priorities and opportunities, and really guided by the cultural assets and self-identified needs of families, practitioners, and communities.” (Dr. Amanda Stein)

Catch the full conversation in the podcast episode.

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About the Podcast Participants

Iheoma U. Iruka

Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D., is a Research Professor in the Department of Public Policy and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Iruka is leading projects and initiatives focused on ensuring that minoritized children and children from low-income households thrive through the intersection of anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally grounded research, program, and policy. Dr. Iruka has authored over 80 books and papers and has given over 300 talks addressing systemic inequities and advancing research and action on the well-being of children and families.

Cynthia D. Jackson

Cynthia D. Jackson leads the Educare Network, a generative, coast-to-coast network of high-quality birth-to-five schools that function as innovative learning labs for the field of early childhood education. In her dual role as Senior Vice President at Start Early, she works alongside other senior leaders to advance the organization’s mission. In collaboration with the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Educare Network school leaders and other early childhood partners, Cynthia advances practice, research and policy solutions to create greater system-wide impact. Prior to joining Start Early, she served as national director of training and technical assistance for Healthy Families America at Prevent Child Abuse America and director of the Midwest Learning Center for Family Support at Family Focus, Inc. Cynthia holds a master’s degree in counseling and health education from the University of North Texas.

Amanda Stein

Amanda Stein, Ph.D., is Managing Director of Research and Evaluation at Start Early. She conducts research on policies and practices that advance equitable access to and organizational conditions for high-quality early childhood education and promotes positive outcomes for children, their families, and the workforce. She leads the national coordinating office research team for the Educare Network and has over a decade of experience engaging in research-practice/policy partnerships (RP3s) that center equity; generate and translate relevant, actionable knowledge; drive quality improvement and innovation; and support the transformation of ECE programs, systems, and policies at scale. Dr. Stein is task lead on the federal Financing for ECE Quality and Access for All project which seeks to better understand the landscape of Head Start’s participation in or use of braided funding. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Iowa State University and is a former OSEP Postdoctoral Fellow and Head Start teacher.