National Academies Press: OpenBook

A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum (2024)

Chapter: 5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery

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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Page 208
Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Page 209
Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Page 211
Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Page 213
Suggested Citation:"5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2024. A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27429.
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Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-1 5 Optimizing the Learning Environment for Effective and Equitable Curriculum Delivery Curricula provide a guide for educator–child interactions aimed at imparting skills and knowledge, as well as excitement about learning and views of oneself as a strong learner. These interactions occur within a broader context that can either facilitate or undermine these immediate instructional goals and thus the promise of early education. At stake is the growth of knowledge and essential life skills for all children who are coming of age in a historically diverse society in which racism, discrimination, and segregation persist. The extent to which this context is sensitive to and celebrates young children's backgrounds and individual differences and ensures equitable access to high-quality learning opportunities is central to effective curriculum delivery and associated learning outcomes. Earlier chapters of this report focus on the child and summarize the evidence on how children learn and thrive in the early childhood years, as well as the components and characteristics of high-quality equitable preschool curricula. This chapter focuses on creating learning environments that support educators’ efforts to utilize curricula in support of all young children’s learning and well-being. In accordance with this report’s central focus on issues of equity, the chapter calls attention to the urgent need for bias-free, anti-racist, and culturally responsive learning environments as a precondition for learning. Both streams of knowledge—on the developing child and on developmentally enriching environments—are foundational to ensuring equitable access to effective curricula for all children. The chapter begins with a discussion of overall quality in early care and education (ECE) and curriculum effectiveness and equity. The sections that follow explore the importance of the educator–child relationship in promoting learning, and peer interactions and peer-related adversity. Next the chapter describes educator approaches to classroom management, including creation of a sense of belonging and the effects of disciplinary practices. This is followed by a discussion of educator well-being and professional development. The chapter concludes with a discussion of inclusive ECE learning environments that foster high-quality, equitable educational experiences for all children. OVERALL QUALITY OF EARLY CARE AND EDUCATION (ECE) AND CURRICULUM EFFECTIVENESS AND EQUITY It is now widely documented that high-quality ECE—especially public programs, such as Head Start and public prekindergarten (pre-K), designed to prepare children experiencing poverty and children with disabilities for school entry—can help close early income-based opportunity gaps in school achievement and generate strong academic outcomes for minoritized Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-2 children, multilingual learners, and those with identified disabilities (NASEM, 2023; Phillips et al., 2017; Yoshikawa et al., 2013). Decades of academic research on variation in quality in both center and home-based ECE settings—defined primarily in terms of educator–child interactions—has shown further that children experience stronger growth in cognitive and social- emotional development when quality is higher and perhaps even at the upper end of commonly used observational measures (Johnson, 2017; Burchinal et al., 2016). However, it is important to note that these associations between quality and child outcomes are generally small, arguing for expansion of more culturally and linguistically centered and inclusive observations measures and clarifying culturally-meaningful child outcomes (Burchinal, 2018; Curenton et al., 2019; Iruka et al., 2023). Unfortunately, none of this research has examined how the quality of the ECE setting affects variation in the implementation of specific curricula, whether a published package, locally developed, or teacher designed. Nor have studies examined either the influence of ingredients of high-quality ECE on curriculum effectiveness or learning outcomes linked to reliance on specific curricula. As discussed in Chapter 4, there is replicated evidence that both comprehensive and domain-specific curricula can have positive effects on time on instruction and educator–child interactions. And yet, for comprehensive curricula, associated impacts on children’s learning or other outcomes have been elusive (see Chapter 2). Here, the focus is on the inverse relationship, namely the role played by the quality of the broader learning environment with regard to curriculum design, delivery, and outcomes. It is reasonable to expect that the broader context in which a curriculum is utilized by educators and received by children will affect the fidelity, quality, and equity of implementation and thus curriculum-specific child learning outcomes. Suggestive evidence is provided by findings that stronger relations between teachers’ instructional support and students’ academic achievement occur in higher-quality preschool classrooms, defined as classrooms in the top decile of the quality distribution (Burchinal et al., 2010). Similarly, Burchinal and colleagues (2016) found that more time in math instruction predicted gains in math skills when overall instructional support was higher. This gap in knowledge about links between the quality of ECE settings and effective, equitable curriculum use (and outcomes) highlights the need to identify dimensions of ECE environments that support effective and equitable curriculum delivery and, specifically, that offer learning opportunities that center minority children’s experiences, needs, and assets and thus provide all children with access to developmentally supportive learning opportunities (Phillips, Johnson, & Iruka, 2022). These dimensions can then be the focus of professional development and other efforts to improve early learning through curriculum reform. While existing curriculum-specific evidence is sparse at best, one can examine the science on how young children (including evidence specific to the subgroups of children on which this report focuses -- see Stern et al., 2024 for an example) learn and thrive, summarized in Chapter 3, to propose elements of learning environments that likely undermine or facilitate educators’ effective and equitable use of curricula to support learning for all children. The urgency of this task is underscored by growing evidence that children from minoritized and other historically marginalized populations experience inequitable access to inclusive and higher-quality ECE settings and have disproportionally less developmentally Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-3 supportive experiences within such settings (NASEM, 2023). The evidence that this systemic exclusion and biased treatment interfere with children’s access to effective curricula warrants focused attention by the research community. Further, in light of this report’s emphasis on high- quality, equity-driven curriculum, it is essential that such efforts draw on integrative models that bring factors essential to understanding the growth and development of racially, ethnically, and linguistically minoritized children to traditional ecological models, as well as to the specific ways in which “quality” is operationalized by commonly used assessment instruments (García Coll, 1996; Iruka et al., 2022; Marks & García Coll, 2018), as reflected in the conceptual framework of this report (see Chapter 1). These theoretical frameworks emphasize the importance of considering the impact of experiences of systematic exclusion, unequal access to crucial supports, and biased treatment on the development of minoritized children, with implications for all historically marginalized children, including those with identified disabilities. As noted in Chapter 1, the committee’s conceptual framework emphasizes that understanding the realities of the lives of children and awareness of historical and current inequities, and addressing historic and systemic barriers to opportunities is a critical step in creating high-quality curricula that are centered on equity to ensure the health, well-being, and achievement of every child, regardless of their race, class, ability, language, and gender. Through a critical lens, the committee draws on the developmental and neuroscience literatures reviewed in Chapter 3 to consider setting-level processes that likely bear on the success with which ECE environments support curriculum reform that maximizes learning outcomes for all children. Ample evidence, reviewed in this chapter and Chapter 7, shows the importance of the dosage and rigor of instructional content; reliance on a variety of instructional modalities; the provision of substantive feedback; and frequent educator–child interactions that extend conversational exchanges, urge children to explain their thinking, and are linguistically rich (Burchinal, et al., 2016; Nguyen et al, forthcoming; Weiland, 2018). This chapter focuses on the broader environment within which these instructional exchanges occur. Specifically, it reviews six bodies of evidence on (1) the educator–child relationship as foundational to learning; (2) experiences of peer-related stress within ECE settings; (3) educators’ approaches to classroom management; (4) educator well-being as it affects children’s experiences in preschool; (5) educator professional development; and (6) educator practices of cultural and linguistic responsiveness, affirmation, and inclusion. THE EDUCATOR–CHILD RELATIONSHIP AS FOUNDATIONAL TO LEARNING Perhaps the most fundamental element of ECE settings affecting children’s ability to learn from any curricula is the extent to which the setting enables children to feel safe and secure (Phillips, 2016; Shonkoff, 2011). Avoidance of adverse experiences that undermine these basic needs is central to establishing ECE settings that support effective and equitable curriculum delivery. Adversity arises from experiences that produce frequent or prolonged activation of the body’s stress management system, many of which are more prevalent in the lives of the children who are the focus of this report. These experiences range from the unpredictability and social exclusion that are often due to the impact of poverty, racism, and other sources of systemic inequities. The downstream impacts of such experiences can compromise the developing brain Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-4 structures and functioning on which children’s receptivity to and capacity for learning and remembering—and thus curriculum effectiveness—depend (see Chapter 3). The vast majority of young children learn and thrive in ECE settings, as documented by the large literature on the positive developmental impacts of child care, Head Start, and pre-K (Johnson, 2017; Phillips et al., 2017; Yoshikawa et al., 2013). The central source of such positive outcomes, beyond the many child-, family-, and culturally based assets that children bring to their ECE environments is the relationships young children forge with the adults in these settings (Hamre, 2014). One of the most robust findings in the child development literature is the protective role that sensitive, warm, and responsive relationships with adults play in the healthy development of children of all ages (IOM & NRC, 2000; NASEM, 2019). Children’s essential sense of emotional and physical safety and security is acquired in the context of close adult–child relationships. Indeed, these close relationships can buffer children who are exposed to adversity, including adversity arising from marginalization and discrimination, from harmful impacts (NASEM, 2016; Redding, 2019). The highly consequential role of adult–child relationships is no less applicable to ECE settings (Pianta & Steinberg, 1992; Verschueren & Koomen, 2012). The relationship an educator establishes with each child is among the most potent predictors of children’s early learning and behavior in these settings. The warmth and responsiveness that characterize the educator–child relationship set the stage for the child’s receptivity to learning from that educator. Herein lies the importance of this relationship for the success of curriculum reform efforts. Indeed, the defining feature of positive adult–child relationships reflects dynamics in which children can reliably receive comfort and reassurance from the adult, allowing them to engage with their environment in a self-directed manner that enables exploration and learning (NASEM, 2023). Manifestations of agency or self-efficacy, as this behavior is often called, are central to a child’s ability to learn, even in the early childhood years (Adair and Colgrove, 2021). A close educator–child relationship may also provide a child with elevated levels of positive teacher attention; enhanced feelings of acceptance, affirmation, and belonging; and extra instructional support for learning that can boost knowledge and skill development (O’Connor et al., 2011). In ECE research, the educator–child relationship has commonly been captured through educators’ ratings of their closeness and conflict with individual children in their classrooms (Pianta, 2001). This research affirms that academic learning, engagement, and self-regulation skills are predicted by the extent to which students’ relationships with their preschool or kindergarten educator is characterized by warmth, trust, and positive affect (closeness) or by disagreement, negative affect, and lack of dyadic rapport (conflict) predicts academic learning, engagement, and self-regulation skills. Children’s closeness to (Cadima et al., 2016; Jones et al., 2013; Lee & Bierman, 2015; Nguyen et al., 2020; Vitiello et al., 2022) and conflict with (Berry, 2012; Jones et al., 2013; Li & Lau, 2019; McKinnon & Blair, 2019; Nguyen et al., 2020) educators predict change over time in such outcomes as literacy skills, attention, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, working memory, learning engagement, and behavioral regulation. This association has recently been affirmed for dual language/multilingual learners, for whom teachers have actually been found to report closer relationships than for English speakers in the same classroom (Luchtel et al., 2010; Oades-Sese & Li, 2011; Winsler, Kim & Richard, 2014). Recent evidence further demonstrates that a close educator–child relationship is more strongly Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-5 predictive of children’s early learning capacities and skills than are classroom-level assessments of the quality of teacher–child interactions (Wright, in prep). The implication is that setting-wide quality ratings may bypass developmentally influential elements of child-specific educator–child relationships and individual differences in the experiences children have with their educators. Alongside evidence of the potent role played by young children’s close relationships with their early educators in their adjustment to and functioning within ECE setting is documentation that close, conflict-free educator–child relationships are not shared equally by all children. In particular, evidence is mounting that teachers rate their relationships with Black children—and Black boys, in particular—as well as children from lower-income families, as more conflictual across the elementary years regardless of academic performance or behavior (Jerome, Hamre & Pianta, 2009; Wood, Essien, & Blevins, 2017). Black preschoolers are also more likely to experience higher conflict as reported by educators, as well as lower classroom educator–child interaction quality than children of other races, and boys also experience higher conflict than girls (Goldberg & Iruka, 2022; Paschall et al., 2023). Especially concerning is evidence that educator–child conflict, as reported by teachers, in pre-K settings may be more damaging for Black boys’ behavior compared with that of boys of other races (Essien & Wood, 2022; Goldberg & Iruka, 2022; Iruka, Sheridan et al., 2022; Wood et al., 2020), calling attention to how teacher perceptions can impact children’s behavior and sense of safety and protection (Alanis, 2004; Wright & Counsell, 2018). Conflictual relationships manifest as harsh, intrusive, and punitive educator responses to young children’s behavior and can set in motion a cascade of negative interactions that further entrench educators’ perceptions of a child as difficult and thus as a source of conflict. Such responses are commonly observed in studies of early childhood classroom interactions. In one recent study of a relatively high-quality pre-K program, for example, half of the children were exposed directly or indirectly to instances of harsh treatment, including yelling or cursing, ignoring a child in physical or emotional need, or physically redirecting or disciplining a child (Phillips et al., 2022b). These negative, reactive disciplinary actions are far from innocuous. They have been found to be associated with increases in stress-induced cortisol levels, impaired self-regulation, and higher rates of anxious-vigilant and externalizing behaviors (Degol & Bachman, 2015; Gunnar et al., 2010; Phillips et al., 2022b). Emerging evidence suggests that such exposures to harsh and controlling educator interactions are experienced disproportionately by minoritized children and those with disabilities (Barnett et al., 2013; Gilliam et al., 2016; Wymer, Corbin, & Williford, 2022). Children at the intersection of race and gender, and notably Black boys, are the subject of especially negative and harsh treatment by educators across age groups, despite being no more likely than White children to engage in behaviors that prompt such responses (Gilliam et al., 2016; Pigott & Cowen, 2000; Skiba et al., 2011). Children internalize these perceptions, as evidenced by their own reports of less supportive and more discriminatory relationships with their teachers in a sample of fourth graders in Quebec, even when earlier classroom behavior and academic achievement are taken into account (Fitzpatrick et al., 2015). The biases reflected in this pattern of results are powerfully demonstrated by a study of pre-K educators who watched videos of two Black and two White children in a classroom and were primed to expect challenging behavior and identify which children would require the most Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-6 attention (Gilliam et al., 2016). In addition, eye tracking technology was used to record which children were watched the most. Both Black and White teachers reported spending more time watching them during the video in anticipation of problems and rated Black children as needing more attention (Gilliam et al., 2016). ADDRESSING PEER-RELATED ADVERSITY WITHIN THE CLASSROOM Within ECE settings, a common threat to feelings of safety and security arises from negative encounters with peers, including those that lead to social exclusion (Fabes et al., 2003; Phillips et al., 2022a). These encounters, in turn, can undermine children’s exploratory behaviors, self-regulation capacities, and receptivity to feedback—all of which are foundational to early learning. For many children, entry into an ECE setting constitutes their first encounter with unfamiliar peers at a time when social-emotional skills are in a formative stage of development. These settings have thus been characterized appropriately as crucibles for social development and as proving grounds for the development of trust, empathy, acceptance, and tolerance (Howes, 2014; IOM & NRC, 2000; Vandell et al., 2006). Interactions characterized by these positive qualities foster children’s emotional security, sense of belonging in their ECE setting, and positive identity development. Their neglect or absence has the opposite effect, as is amply illustrated by research on the emergence of social hierarchies in groups of young children. Boyce et al. (2012) document the emergence of social hierarchies in which specific children fall into dominant and subordinate positions within peer groups, in early childhood classrooms serving 5-year-olds. Specifically, certain children were observed to experience disproportionate teasing, controlling, and directing, and threatening physical and relational aggression—and thus rejection and marginalization. Children who experienced such “social subordination” were significantly more likely than their peers to exhibit classroom inattention, concerning symptomatology (e.g., anxiety, sadness, acting out), and lower academic competence. Experiences of subordination and exclusion were also associated with altered neurobiological stress responses that, in turn, contributed to the detrimental behavioral impacts. While the socioeconomic status of the children’s families did not predict experiences of subordination, children from families of lower socioeconomic status exhibited more adverse impacts from such experiences, suggesting heightened vulnerability to social rejection. Olsen has documented similar phenomena among preschoolers in her work on the origins and dynamics of peer aggression in Head Start classrooms (Olsen, 1992)). More broadly, this evidence informs the broader and growing literature on social exclusion in childhood, which operates at both the individual and group levels (Killen, Mulvey, & Hitti, 2013). A closely related literature documents the social exclusion that is experienced by children with disabilities, who struggle mightily with peer relationships (Guralnick, 1998). While these children, like all children, seek to play with and befriend typically developing peers, their attempts are all too often rejected. And while inclusive classrooms can promote interactions between children with disabilities and their typically developing peers, with benefits to all (see Chapter 6), these settings do not necessarily enhance sustained social exchanges or friendships for the children with disabilities (Guralnick, Gottman, & Hammond, 1996). There is no reason to believe that the developmental impacts of experiences of exclusion would be any less harmful Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-7 for children with disabilities than for others who are the targets of subordination and rejection, but pertinent empirical evidence in this regard on children with disabilities is lacking. Multilingual learners can also experience social challenges when interacting with their English-speaking peers. In a landmark ethnographic study of preschool multilingual learners, Patton Tabors (1997) describes the double bind faced by multilingual learners when they enter preschool classrooms where English is the dominant language. They do not have the English skills to interact and engage with their English-speaking peers, and yet these social interactions are essential to learning the new language and developing the social skills needed to function in group settings. Consequently, multilingual learners are at risk of becoming so-called “omega children,” characterized as those who have lower standing in the social dominance hierarchy of their peer group because of their lack of the communicative skills necessary for social competence (Garnica, 1981). Thus, without linguistic scaffolding and social facilitation by preschool teachers (see Chapter 7), multilingual learners are at risk of becoming socially isolated because they do not speak the same language as their peers and teachers. Educators can play a highly influential role—sometimes portrayed as the “invisible hand”—in preventing such instances of social exclusion, promoting positive peer interaction, and thus alleviating threatening or exclusionary peer interactions (Farmer et al., 2011). Indeed, the Pyramid Model discussed in Chapters 4 and 6 rests on a foundation of nurturing and responsive relationships on which subsequent tiers of the pyramid, and thus the prosocial development of all children, depend (National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations, n.d.). By engaging in proactive social scaffolding in which children are helped to enter a peer group, resolve conflicts constructively, and learn to take turns and share, educators facilitate more harmonious and complex peer interactions (Acar et al., 2017; Williams, et al., 2010). Classrooms with an explicit focus on fostering egalitarian interactions among the children (collaborative learning), respecting and supporting the unique developmental and cultural differences of each child, and encouraging all children to contribute actively to the learning process can counteract the emergence of peer hierarchies (Boyce et al., 2012). Evidence in this regard comes from a recent intervention with preschoolers (most of whom were Latine) that relied on teachers’ promotion of intergroup contact via intentional peer pairings and support for engagement in cooperative activities, which effectively promoted preschoolers’ cross-gender classroom peer relationships (Hanish et al., 2021). Efforts to apply these findings toward the goal of enhancing other forms of cross-group collaboration, friendship, and understanding are urgently needed. EDUCATORS’ APPROACHES TO CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT Virtually all comprehensive assessment tools for capturing ECE quality include the dimension of classroom management. It is in this domain that harsh educator–child interactions and instances of educator–child conflict are most apparent insofar as they are typically manifested in the service of maintaining order in the classroom, ensuring that children follow rules and routines, and stopping behavior that is perceived to be disruptive (Huston et al., 2015; Moffett et al., 2021). The Model of the Prosocial Classroom (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009) and the Teaching Through Interactions framework (Hamre et al., 2013) emphasize teacher–child interactions that establish the emotional and organizational climate of the ECE setting as Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-8 foundational to children’s receptivity to learning. The emotional climate of the classroom or home (extent of warmth, positive emotions) plays the same supportive role for all children in the ECE setting. Beyond the emotional tone of the setting, substantial evidence now highlights the contribution of a well-managed classroom to children’s ability to learn (Domitrovich et al., 2009; Fishman & Wille, 2014; Hsueh et al., 2014; Lieber et al., 2009; Odom et al., 2010). Educators are, effectively, managers of the classroom social system. At the classroom level, consistent routines and predictable, proactively implemented expectations for behavior serve to assure children of their safety and security and enable them gradually to regulate their own behavior, including learning to pay attention despite distractions and follow increasingly complex instructions that facilitate learning. To the extent that these routines and expectations draw on the diversity of children’s experiences, backgrounds, languages, and funds of knowledge, all children’s sense of belonging will be enhanced. These practices may be especially important for children who are more challenged than others by social interaction, including those with disabilities and those who may be excluded because of their cultural, racial, linguistic, and economic backgrounds. They are also the focus of guidance on inclusive educational practice and increasingly of efforts to ensure that teacher biases and associated discriminatory treatment of marginalized groups of children are addressed as part of professional development. Attending to educator strategies for managing the classroom social system is an integral element of ensuring that teachers can devote their time to supporting learning and that all children in an ECE setting are receptive to acquiring the lessons that curricula are designed to impart. At the extreme, the more conflictual and harsh disciplinary treatment experienced by historically marginalized young children, discussed above, that is captured in assessments of classroom management has been suggested as one reason for disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions (Goldberg & Iruka, 2022, Wymer, Corbin, & Williford, 2022). Teacher biases and the negative, reactive responses to behavior that teachers disproportionally perceive to be disruptive when enacted by minoritized children are strong candidates as sources of this treatment (Barnett et al, 2013; Gilliam et al, 2016) and warrant immediate attention in teacher training and professional development efforts. For example, kindergarten teachers have been reported to view Black boys as demonstrating poor self-regulation and social skills (Williford and colleagues, 2021: Wood, Essien, & Blevons, 2017). These views, in turn, have been associated with teachers’ reliance on exclusionary discipline practices (Williford et al, 2021). The consequences are devastating: The U.S Office for Civil Rights’ (2016) reports that Black children make up 18% of preschool enrollments but almost half of children being suspended or expelled. Children with disabilities are also at risk of systemic exclusionary practices; they are twice as likely as children without disabilities to be suspended and expelled (US OCR, 2016). And Black boys from low-income backgrounds receiving special education services are suspended at higher rates than any other subgroup of children (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2020). In addition to inflicting discriminatory exclusion from access to a curriculum on a young child, with accompanying detrimental impacts on early learning, early experiences of suspension, expulsion, and other exclusionary practices increase the likelihood of suspension and expulsion in later grades, leading to what some call the school-to-prison pipeline (Skiba et al., 2014) Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-9 As children proceed through school, their experiences of exclusionary discipline practices can continue, with highly consequential adverse impacts. According to a recent report from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, for example, Black 9- to 10-year-olds were 4.7 times more likely to receive a detention or suspension compared with their White peers, as were children of “other” race/ethnicity, in models that controlled for externalizing behavior problems, family conflict, household income, and other demographic characteristics (Fadus et al., 2021). These exclusionary practices also increase the odds of long-term emotional, mental, and educational harm (Chu & Ready, 2018). In samples of older children, for example, perceived discrimination from teachers has been associated with drops in grades, lower academic self- concept, and less persistence (Neblett et al., 2006; Wong et al., 2003). If internalized, these attitudes can lead to lower self-esteem and psychological distress, and higher levels of alcohol consumption and obesity (Kwate & Meyer, 2011; Williams & Mohammed, 2013, 2009). Youth internalize these biased and racialized perceptions and practices, as evidenced by their own reports of less supportive and more discriminatory relationships with their teachers, even when earlier classroom behavior and academic achievement are taken into account (Fitzpatrick et al., 2015). Identifying the earliest age at which children begin to expect, internalize, and show behavioral manifestations of their experiences with educator bias and unequal treatment – which may be as early as preschool (Gansen, 2021) - is essential for preventive interventions. THE ESSENTIAL ROLE OF TEACHER WELL-BEING As of 2019, approximately 2.73 million center-based and listed (licensed, registered, regulated, or license-exempt) home-based ECE educators cared for over 10 million children in center- and home-based settings in the United States (Administration for Children and Families 2021). This workforce consisted largely of women (92%) and in many child care sectors, members of racial and ethnic minority groups (40%), immigrants (22%), and low-income individuals (average annual salary of $17,725, 67% below the national average) (Chang, 2020; Deloitte, 2022.). ECE teachers earn, on average, two-thirds of what kindergarten teachers with the same levels of higher education earn (Whitebook et al., 2014). Nearly half of all ECE educators rely on some form of government assistance (Whitebook et al., 2018), and many struggle to pay for health care, utilities, and food (Whitaker et al., 2015). This essential workforce also faces challenging working conditions, including long hours and physical and emotional demands (Kwon et al., 2021), leading to staff turnover, absenteeism, poor physical health conditions, high rates of burnout, emotional exhaustion, stress and mental health problems (Haberman, 2005), that reports indicate have been exacerbated by the COVID- 19 pandemic (https://cep.asu.edu/sites/default/files/2023-05/mh-report_051623.pdf). For example, ECE teachers in high-poverty schools or Head Start programs have reported rates of depression ranging from 25% to 50% (Hamre & Pianta, 2004; \ Whitaker et al., 2013). Close to half of teachers in the acclaimed Tulsa pre-K program, for example, reported concerning levels of depressive symptomatology (Johnson et al., 2021). ECE teachers also report high levels of workplace stress (De Schipper et al., 2009; Groeneveld et al., 2012; Jeon et al, 2014; Li-Grining et al., 2010). Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-10 A growing body of evidence demonstrates that educators’ ability to offer stable, stimulating, and inclusive ECE settings for young children is affected by their own well-being (IOM & NRC, 2015, Chapter 11). Well-being in this context emphasizes freedom from stress that is psychosocial (e.g., depression), economic (e.g., low wages, material hardship), or job related (e.g., burnout). High levels of stress can impede educators’ concentration and planning abilities, interfere with their own emotion regulation, and give rise to unchecked implicit bias. These compromised and consequential adult outcomes can carry negative consequences for the classroom management and instructional interactions that undergird educators’ ability to deliver a curriculum effectively and equitably. Replicated empirical evidence has, for example, found that both preschool educators’ depression and low wages predict more reactive, punitive, and intrusive educator–child interactions, as well as lower quality of instruction (e.g., Buettner et al., 2016; Hindman & Bustamante, 2019; Johnson et al., 2021). In two samples of Head Start educators, for example, both teacher depression and teacher workplace stress predicted poorer quality of teacher–child interaction and, specifically, more teacher–child conflict (Li-Grining et al., 2010; Whitaker et al., 2015). Teachers with higher levels of depression are also more likely to request that a child be expelled from their care (Silver & Zinsser, 2020). This chain of associations from educator stress and depression to compromised teacher–child relationships also has implications for child outcomes, primarily with regard to social-emotional development (Buettner, Jeon, Hur, & Garcia, 2016; Hindman & Bustamante, 2019; Jeon et al., 2014; 2019; Whitaker et al., 2015). In one study, for example, educator depression predicted increased problem behavior over the course of a Head Start year (Roberts et al., 2016). Other studies, however, have found that despite high rates of depression and food insecurity, educators are able to compartmentalize or absorb their stress such that their students are protected from its impacts (Johnson et al., 2020). While laudable, the toll it likely takes on teachers is another reminder of the critical need to support them social, emotionally, and economically to ensure they give all children their best selves. In light of the chronic work overload, job strain, and poor compensation—yet high expectations—that characterize the early childhood education workforce, there is an urgent need to address educators’ well-being as a basic precondition for high-quality early education. Fortunately, promising evidence from early childhood intervention programs, as well as parenting interventions, that target adult stress and equip participants with supportive behavior management strategies, directly address teachers’ own experiences of stress, and provide in- classroom coaching and consultation from mental health professionals offers guidance for the promotion of educator well-being (see IOM and NRC, 2015). A key next step is to apply these approaches to routinely available professional development for early educators, including those aimed at promoting the effective and equitable use of high-quality curriculum. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE ECE WORKFORCE Professional development is key to implementing curriculum to support child outcomes. In its review of the research evidence, the committee found that coaching, training, and/or mentoring that accompany a well-structured, sequenced curriculum are highlighted as key factors Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-11 for ensuring curriculum quality and effectiveness (e.g., Clements et al., 2011; Goodrich et al., 2017; Marietta & Marietta, 2013; Upshur et al., 2017; Weiland, 2016; Wenz-Gross et al., 2018). Professional development (including coaching and training) can serve many purposes, including training in student skills and capacities in certain content areas and training in effectively providing instruction that nurtures those skills (Clements et al., 2021; Goodrich et al., 2017; Weiland et al., 2018). Mentoring, which may involve the mentor’s spending time in the classroom observing instruction, modeling teaching strategies, and providing feedback, is another opportunity for teachers to strengthen their instructional skills and the implementation fidelity of a curriculum (Assel et al., 2007; Domitrovich et al., 2009; Goodrich et al., 2017). Some of the literature reviewed by the committee underscores the importance of frequent and/or intensive training and coaching as integral to building teacher skills—for example, receiving coaching from an experienced teacher who is steeped in early childhood education content knowledge and possesses sophisticated pedagogical practices grounded in teaching/learning and child development at least twice a month (Weiland et al., 2018); receiving ongoing teacher training and in-classroom coaching (Portilla et al., 2020); or having long-term, multiyear professional development opportunities (Sarama et al., 2021). Overall, having access to training and resources that support teachers’ understanding of how curricular content, instructional techniques, assessments, and pedagogy align benefits teachers’ implementation of curricula and subsequently promote student outcomes (Cohen-Vogel et al., 2020; Portilla et al., 2020). The availability of and access to professional learning supports vary widely across professional roles, programs, and settings. For example, a family childcare provider may have access to different types and amounts of support from those that can be accessed by professionals in a Head Start program. Additionally, the availability of and access to professional learning supports can vary greatly from place to place. In site visits conducted by the committee that authored the 2015 report Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation (IOM and NRC, 2015), interviews with individuals and organizations working with young children conducted in Chicago, Illinois; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Washington State identified potential barriers to professional learning that included lack of time, lack of funding to pay for professional learning opportunities, isolation from their professional community, high rates of staff turnover, and lack of available opportunities for professional development; these barriers were especially common in rural and resource-constrained areas (IOM and NRC, 2015), It is important to address these barriers to professional development in order to ensure that all early childhood educators have the opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills and to provide the best possible care and education for young children (IOM and NRC, 2015). In addition to individual training and development, the 2015 IOM and NRC study identified other systemic factors (Figure 5-1) that are important for supporting high-quality early childhood practice. These factors, often influenced by elements outside the control of educators, include the following: • Practice environment: working conditions, staffing structures, staff-to-child ratios Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-12 • Resources: curricular materials, instructional tools, child assessment resources, supplies • Policies: professional requirements, opportunities for advancement, evaluation systems, quality improvement systems • Status and well-being of professionals: incentives to attract and retain teachers, perceptions of the profession, compensation, stress management support FIGURE 5-1 Factors that contribute to the quality of professional practice and ultimately to improving child outcomes. SOURCE: IOM and NRC, 2015, p.359. Ideally, all of these factors work together to create an environment where children can thrive. For this to happen, professional learning and workforce development must be driven by the science of child development and supported by coherent evaluation and assessment systems. The 2015 IOM and NRC report also identifies key features of effective professional learning for instructional practices (Box 5-1). BOX 5-1 Key Features of Effective Professional Learning for Instructional Practices Research suggests that effective professional learning for instructional practices has several key features: • Develops knowledge of the specific content to be taught, including deep conceptual knowledge of the subject and its processes (Blömeke et al., 2011; Brendefur et al., 2013; Garet et al., 2001). Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-13 • Gives corresponding attention to specific pedagogical content knowledge, including all three aspects of learning trajectories: the goal, the developmental progression of levels of thinking, and the instructional activities corresponding to each level—and especially their connections. This feature of professional learning also helps build a common language for educators in working with each other and other groups (Brendefur et al., 2013; Bryk et al., 2010). • Includes active learning involving the details of setting up, conducting, and formatively evaluating subject-specific experiences and activities for children, including a focus on reviewing student work and small-group instructional activities (Brendefur et al., 2013; Garet et al., 2001). • Focuses on common actions and problems of practice, which, to the extent possible, should be situated in the classroom. • Grounds experiences in particular curriculum materials and allows educators to learn and reflect on that curriculum, implement it, and discuss their implementation. • Includes in-classroom coaching. The knowledge and skill of coaches are of critical importance. Coaches also must have knowledge of the content, general pedagogical knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge, as well as knowledge of and competencies in effective coaching. • Employs peer study groups or networks for collective participation by educators who work together (Garet et al., 2001). • Incorporates sustained and intensive professional learning experiences and networks rather than stand-alone professional learning activities (Garet et al., 2001). • Ensures that all professional learning activities (e.g., trainings, adoption of new curricula, implementation of new standards) are interconnected and consistent in content and approach (Brendefur et al., 2013; Garet et al., 2001). This consistency also involves a shared language and goal structure that promote peer communication and collaboration. • Ties professional learning to the science of adult learning. There is now increasing recognition of the importance of multiple, comprehensive domains of knowledge and learning for adults (NRC, 2012). • Addresses equity and diversity concerns in access to and participation in professional learning. • Addresses economic, institutional, and regulatory barriers to implementing professional learning. SOURCE: Excerpted from IOM and NRC, 2015, pp. 398-399. In summary, early childhood educators need to have the right skills and knowledge, but they also need to work in an environment that supports them and gives them the resources they need to succeed. This means having supportive policies, adequate staffing, and access to high- quality professional development opportunities (see IOM and NRC, 2015 for an in-depth discussion of factors that contribute to quality professional practice and an overview of ongoing professional learning for ECE educators). More research is needed on supports for successful implementation of preschool curricula, including integrated professional development. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-14 FOSTERING INCLUSIVE AND EQUITABLE ECE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS There is an urgent need to ensure that children—especially racially, ethnically, and linguistically minoritized children; children living in poverty; and children with disabilities—are provided equitable, inclusive, culturally affirming experiences in ECE settings (Meek et al., 2020). The urgency that surrounds this need is motivated by examples of the structural inequities, unequal treatment, and acts of racism that add to the adversities experienced by minoritized children and families. The National Academies report Closing the Opportunity Gap for Young Children from Birth to Age 8 provides a comprehensive analysis of these experiences and their developmental impacts. Within early education, these experiences start with the basic landscape of access to high-quality settings (NASEM, 2023). Within ECE settings, minoritized children are more likely than their peers to experience biased treatment, as described previously in this chapter with regard to educator–child relationships and interactions and, ultimately, suspensions and expulsions. The critical importance of identifying effective approaches to addressing educator biases and other exclusionary practices in ECE classrooms and their pernicious impacts on young children’s learning and development is clear. Absent focused attention to establishing learning environments that protect children from the adverse impacts of stressful encounters with peers and educators, support their feelings of safety and security, and celebrate their diverse backgrounds, even the best designed curricula will fall short of desired impacts. Beyond eliminating biased treatment of children, these approaches need to foster full appreciation and incorporation of the many strengths and assets that minoritized children and families bring to their ECE settings. Fortunately, promising models exist—often focused on older children—that are ripe for adaptation to pre-K settings and for scale-up, accompanied by multimethod research designs that will permit identification of the active ingredients of various approaches, their causal impacts, and the extent to which they generalize across circumstances and populations. These models are often grounded in the literature on culturally responsive classrooms, as well as newer conceptualizations of anti-bias or anti-racist pedagogy. Culturally Responsive Classrooms Culturally responsive classrooms adopt an asset-based approach that draws on children’s cultures, language, abilities, and experience to make learning meaningful and relevant; help build positive and healthy racial, ethnic, and linguistic identity; support inclusive classroom practices; and help children achieve success in school (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Relevant classroom practices are based on two fundamental principles of learning: (1) new learning builds on prior learning, and (2) what people learn and how they learn are a product of their experiences in multiple social and cultural contexts (NASEM, 2018). Simply put, children make sense of new experiences in relation to what they already know (Delpit, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 2009, 2014; NASEM, 2018). Especially for young children, learning is acquired primarily in the social, cultural, and linguistic contexts of their families and communities. By valuing and embracing a multiplicity of cultural and linguistic assets—including both culturally grounded content and Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-15 values—students’ feeling of belonging and connectedness to school will be strengthened, as will engagement and motivation to learn (Armstrong, 2021; Byrd, 2016; Krasnoff, 2016). The terms “culturally relevant,” “culturally responsive,” and “culturally affirming” are often used interchangeably today. These terms communicate the essential role of culture in children’s development and the need to view children’s cultures as strengths on which to build. Culturally relevant pedagogy, first promulgated by Ladson-Billings (1995, 2014) accepts and affirms children’s identities, especially those of children whose experiences and cultures have historically been excluded based on the three tenets of academic achievement, cultural competence, and sociopolitical critique. Gay (2018) developed a framework of culturally responsive teaching emphasizing that specific strategies and classroom practices must connect to and build on children’s cultural knowledge and experiences in their families and communities to support their identities and promote new learning. Recently, culturally and linguistically sustaining pedagogy has been emphasized, building and extending asset-based approaches and calling for practices within schools that sustain, rather than ignore or eradicate cultural ways of being in communities of color (Paris, 2012; Paris & Alim, 2012). Educators value and sustain the cultural and linguistic practices of the community while providing access to the dominant culture (White, middle class, and standard English speaking). In practice, this means that children’s languages and cultures are centered meaningfully in classroom experiences instead of being considered “add-ons.” As examples, these practices include teaching heritage languages and including Native culture and traditions throughout the curriculum, as well as or African-centered curricula and pedagogy (Box 5-2). BOX 5-2 African-Centered Curricula and Pedagogy Another important literature strand has explored Afrocentric approaches and culturally relevant practices for Black preschoolers. In the United States, there are private preschools (e.g., Little Sun People and Seneca Village Montessori School) and charter schools (e.g., Sankofa Freedom Academy and Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools) that concentrate on serving and empowering Black children. These schools generally utilize Afrocentric curricula, which elevate the perspectives of people of color and emphasize the histories and cultures of people of African descent. The goal of African-centered teaching pedagogy and curriculum is to mitigate the effects of institutional racism and teachers’ biases in the classroom and schools to provide a healthy, healing, and culturally grounded space for Black children who have had their identity and self- worth challenged since the beginning of colonization (Iruka, Musa, & Allen, 2023; Shockley & Lomotey, 2020). African-centered early childhood education curricula are focused on “identity— the importance of identifying the Black child as an African; pan Africanism—the idea that all Black people in the world are Africans; African culture—the long-standing tradition of Blacks using African culture and language to sustain themselves and bring order to their lives and communities; African values adoption and transmission—the inclusion of an African ethos into educational process for Black children; and Black nationalism—the idea that Blacks, regardless of their specific location, constitute a nation” (Shockley, 2011, p. 1032). Afrocentric schools and their curricula often promote cooperation and teamwork to achieve goals while rejecting the hyper-individualism that many European-centered curricula and schools endorse (Rotenberg, Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-16 2020). Asante (1991) notes that African-centered education allows children to be centered in their cultural information, which results in their being better students, more disciplined, and more motivated for schoolwork. Unlike the current and predominant teaching pedagogy in preschool, African-centered teaching practices allow Black children to experience cultural congruity between their lived realities and learning experiences in the classroom; develop a healthy racial and diasporic Black identity; enable critical consciousness surrounding issues of race, racism, and fairness; improve academic outcomes; and cultivate strong collective ties with their local and diasporic communities. Tracing the origins of African-centered sites of learning in the U.S., Durden (2007) stated, “since the 1700’s Blacks have designed independent schools to meet the cultural and intellectual needs of their children” (p. 24). Afrocentricity provides the theoretical framings of African-centered education (Shockley and Lomotey, 2020). African-centered education refers to teaching and learning practices that use African ways of knowing and being (King and Swartz, 2015) to foster Black children’s healthy racial identity development, self-knowledge, and agency (Shockley and Lomotey, 2020). Specifically, in the classroom, “children are taught about events, places, people and things, with crucial reference to and in the critical context of the historical trajectory of people of African descent” (Shockley and Cleveland, 2011, p. 55). In essence, the classroom functions as a space where children can receive accurate historical knowledge about their African ancestry, thereby disrupting the adverse psychological effects of anti-Blackness on children’s developing sense of self and identity. While there has been some examination of African-centered education, primarily for older students, showing positive effects on students’ knowledge and attitudes toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) (Burbanks et al., 2020), higher test scores (Dei and Kempf, 2013), racial pride (Johnson, 2016), self-esteem and sense of belonging (Foston, 2004; Hancock, 2017; Watson, 2015), and adolescent girls’ mental health (Constantine et al., 2006), there is a lack of empirical data focused on African-centered early childhood education. There are some emerging African- centered curricula, such as Education for Life Academy, Sankofa Science Solutions, The Historic Journey Curriculum, Oh Freedom!, Kamali Academy, and Kwanzaa 365, to name a few. Unfortunately, African-centered teaching and pedagogy has been pushed out of or absent from traditional education training and preparation programs for educators to the detriment of Black children’s learning and achievement (Akua, 2020), but these emerging African-centered curricula provide some options for further exploration. Another strategy for better serving Black children is to leverage their cultural and linguistic practices—including using African American Vernacular English (AAVE)—in classroom instruction (Gardner-Neblett et al., 2017). Yet research has seldom explored how these practices can be intentionally integrated into an existing curriculum, and there is relatively little evidence on the impact of these practices on preschoolers’ development (an exception is Jackson, 2017). A body of research conducted by the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) demonstrates that curriculum and teaching built on children’s cultural backgrounds and strengths can contribute to school readiness and academic achievement across age groups (Tharp et al., 2003; Doherty et al., 2003). Culturally responsive practices have positive effects on students’ engagement, attention, and motivation—all of which are prerequisites for successful learning (Krasnoff, 2016; NASEM, 2018). Using culturally relevant examples in curriculum and teaching has also been found to have positive effects on the Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-17 academic achievement of racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse students. These effects have been demonstrated for Native Hawaiians, but evidence also exists for the effectiveness of culturally relevant practice for older elementary and high school students who are Black, Latine, and Alaska Natives (Krasnoff, 2016). New America (Muñiz, 2019; 2020) recently identified eight educator competencies needed for culturally responsive teaching that are consistent with lessons from this body of research. The first is for educators to become self-aware of their own cultural lens. They need to recognize the historical and current destructive effects of discrimination and bias based on ethnicity, race, socioeconomic background, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability/disability, or family structure. They need to reflect on their own biases and how those biases may affect judgments about the competence of children and their subsequent behavior toward them. Other competencies are consistent with those previously discussed: drawing on children’s cultures to shape curriculum and teaching; bringing real-world issues into the classroom, modeling high expectations for all children, promoting respect for differences, collaborating with families and communities, and communicating in linguistically and culturally responsive ways. These principles are also consistent with the evidence regarding the effectiveness of culturally responsive teaching (Krasnoff, 2016). When preschool programs incorporate children’s cultures and languages/dialects in meaningful ways, children are more likely to engage in the classroom activities, develop both social-emotional and academic skills, and improve their self-concept (Craig & Washington, 2006; Gort & Sembiante, 2015; Hancock, 2017). Additionally, culturally responsive programs can promote multigenerational learning and strengthen communities. For example, Head Start program staff in Region XI—which serves primarily Indigenous children—often use local Indigenous languages and encourage both families and children to engage with Native language and cultural practices, which helps create bonds among elders, parents, and children (Sarche et al., 2020). To facilitate these efforts, in 2018 Head Start released “Making It Work! Connecting Cultural Learning Experiences in American Indian and Alaska Native Classrooms and Communities” with the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework (ECLKC, 2024). Materials are available online to help programs align expectations for child outcomes with traditional cultural skills, values, beliefs, and ways of knowing, including examples of cultural lessons. Children’s participation in heritage practices, such as traditional storytelling, not only promotes Indigenous communities’ wellness (Hodge et al., 2002) but also facilitates children’s acquisition of literacy and math skills (McKeough et al., 2008; Riser et al., 2019). Recognizing these potential benefits, Head Start and several states emphasize cultural responsiveness in their early learning program standards (NCECDTL, 2020). A 2022 report based on interviews with 31 ECE leaders documents broad consensus that early childhood curricula and classroom practices should be culturally relevant (Reid & Kagan, 2022). The leaders agreed that children’s learning is maximized when curricula provide learning opportunities that build on the children’s cultural experiences at home and in their communities. Nevertheless, Krasnoff (2016) points out that there are limitations to the evidence on culturally responsive educational practices. Although the literature identifies characteristics and examples of culturally responsive practices, there is a lack of experimental or quasi-experimental research demonstrating the link between these practices and learning outcomes (apart from the Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-18 Kamehameha Early Education Program described in Chapter 4). Krasnoff (2016) concludes that “the lack of experimental studies points more to the difficulty in conducting such studies in public schools than to the validity of culturally responsive practices” (p. 20). Antiracist Pedagogy Kishimoto (2018) describes anti-racist pedagogy as “about how one teaches” (p. 540), not about a specific curriculum. It is expressed in routine teacher–child and peer interactions and learning materials, approaches, and routines, rather than as a separate focus of classroom instruction. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research on anti-racist pedagogy in ECE settings (Curenton et al., 2022). However, observational measures, such as the Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES [Curenton et al., 2020]), described below, not only provides an assessment tool for measuring the extent to which ECE classroom interactions reflect anti- racist pedagogy, but also offers a comprehensive operationalization of this construct as it applies to young children. The guiding framework for the ACSES emphasizes the importance of bidirectional interactions between teachers and children and children’s peer-to-peer interactions that (1) encourage children to express their knowledge and cultural identities; (2) connect children’s home and school languages; (3) provide a nurturing and affirming classroom climate in which children can express their unique personalities, emotions, abilities, and ideas; (4) offer instruction that is connected to children’s lived experiences at home and in their communities; (5) explicitly and intentionally emphasize building positive cultural and bias-free interactions between teachers and children and between peers that value diversity and strive for social justice; (6) include equitable discipline based on redirection and encouragement for positive behavior; and (7) incorporate intellectually stimulating instructional content, curriculum, and viewpoints that challenge the status quo of present-day knowledge and social hierarchy and show minoritized learners in positions of authority and agency (Curenton et al., 2022). Similar to Krasnoff’s concerns about the state of evidence around culturally responsive instruction as it affects children’s outcomes, research on specific strategies for reducing implicit and explicit racial biases and their harmful manifestations in ECE settings is similarly sparse. Promising findings are emerging, however, that the intergroup attitudes of young children (under 8 years, though seldom studied in preschool-age students) about children of differing races and ethnicities and children with disabilities can be positively affected by actual, media-based (including books) (Aboud et al., 2012) and imagined contact (Birtel et al., 2019). Impacts on actual behavior, such as peer relationships and friendship choices, appear to be more difficult to produce. A successful intervention focused on fostering cross-gender interactions among preschool-age children (Hanish et al., 2021) may also offer lessons for strategies focused on facilitating other cross-group interactions. A 2019 National Academies report noted that implicit bias training offers an opportunity to mitigate prejudices; however, research also emphasizes the need to for these interventions to take an antiracist approach that addresses discrimination that affects racially minoritized populations such as ethnocentrism, internalized biases, and both overt and covert forms of discrimination. The report also notes that early childhood education is a unique context in which to address these concerns. For example, actively incorporating cultural competence into Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-19 curriculum and cultivating partnerships with families can help bridge the gap between a child’s home environment and the educational setting. Such an approach acknowledges the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of children and the potential influence these backgrounds have on receptivity to various pedagogical approaches. For example, some communities may emphasize child-directed play while others may emphasize more indirect approaches such as observation without direct involvement. Recognizing these nuances allows educators to tailor their methods to affirm and resonate with children’s lived experiences to foster a more inclusive learning environment (NASEM, 2019). More research is needed on interventions to reduce implicit biases in preschool settings when evidence of racial prejudice emerges, and the needs of educators to address these biases. Observational Measures of Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Classrooms Most commonly used quality assessment tools pay no attention to whether ECE environments are free from bias, inclusive, and culturally and linguistically responsive (Phillips, Johnson, & Iruka, 2022a). Some available measures, such as the Inclusive Classroom Profile (ICP; Soukakou et al., 2012), which captures ECE quality features of importance for children with disabilities and their classmates, and the Classroom Assessment of Supports for Emergent Bilingual Acquisition (CASEBA; Freedson et al., 2011), which captures the quality of language supports and cultural inclusion for multilingual learners, are rarely used by investigators not focused on these populations, despite their prevalence in ECE settings. The new Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES; Curenton et al., 2020) focuses explicitly on antibias, culturally responsive practices and thus offers an essential supplement to existing ECE quality assessment instruments by attending to how teachers actively navigate issues of racial inequity and help foster connections between school and children’s culture and language. The ACSES captures the frequency with which classroom interactions (1) challenge the status quo knowledge, (2) provide equitable learning opportunities for minoritized children, (3) utilize discipline practices equitably, (4) make connections to home life, and (5) offer personalized learning opportunities. Challenging the status quo was recently found to be the most consistent predictor of preschoolers’ skills, showing positive associations with children’s math, executive functioning, and social skills (Curenton et al., 2022). Executive functioning skills were also positively predicted by connections to home life and personalized learning opportunities. Curenton and colleagues recommend an experimental study of a professional development intervention related to anti-racist pedagogy as the next step toward identifying its causal impacts on children’s learning and development. In addition, Head Start has also developed a program quality assessment tool—the Native Culture & Language in the Classroom Observation (NCLCO) (AI/AN FACES 2019 Workgroup, 2021)—to observe the degree to which Native culture and language are used in programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native children and families. Head Start also has developed the Dual Language Learners Program Assessment (DLLPA) (Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, 2021), which evaluates the degree to which culturally and linguistically responsive practices are provided for multilingual learners. Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-20 These observational measures offer the promise of providing a lens through which to examine whether ECE environments center equity. An essential next step is to produce a next- generation quality assessment instrument that incorporates these newer, equity- and inclusion- focused assessments so that rather than serving as add-ons to commonly used instruments such as the CLASS and ECERS, they become fully integrated into the quality measures used by ECE researchers. CONCLUSION Effective educators of young children are not only pedagogical leaders but also sources of safety, protection, security, scaffolding, validation, and inclusion in their roles as leaders of the ECE setting. Effective enactment of the pedagogical role is inextricably intertwined with educators’ attention to these other roles. The committee’s review of the literature identified key themes related to creating optimal environments for learning and effective and equitable curriculum delivery: • Stressful encounters with other children and educators that threaten children’s feelings of safety and security take their capacities and motivation to learn offline. Close relationships with teachers and predictable, supportive, and proactive classroom management practices buffer children from the adverse consequences of such encounters. Absent attention to these broader dynamics of ECE settings, even the best-designed curricula will fall short of desired impacts. • Scaffolding of inclusive peer interactions; elimination of biases that undermine the development of close, affirming educator–child relationships; and reliance on warm, consistent, and proactive classroom management strategies are essential to the effective delivery of equitable curriculum, and need to be incorporated into the core elements of both curriculum design and professional development. • Educators’ capacity to establish warm, predictable, and accepting learning environments, and thus to deliver effective and equitable curriculum, is deeply affected by their own well-being, which has been defined in terms of mental health, economic security, and freedom from workplace burnout. • Efforts to ensure the provision of effective and equitable curriculum need to incorporate supports for teacher well-being. First and foremost, pay equity for preschool educators with comparably educated K-12 teachers is an essential foundation for any effort aimed at reducing the detrimental impacts of stress among early childhood educators. In addition, both within-program coaching and consultation focused on stress management as it affects classroom practices and access to mental health supports are necessary to enable early childhood educators to implement developmentally enhancing classroom practices. • Culturally and linguistically responsive curriculum and teaching are an essential component of high-quality, equity-focused curriculum. A small but growing body of research exists for its efficacy with preschoolers, although more evidence is available for its effectiveness with older children and youth. Early evidence Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

OPTIMIZING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR EFFECTIVE AND EQUITABLE CURRICULUM DELIVERY 5-21 suggests that young children benefit from opportunities to see themselves, their identities, their experiences, and their communities in positive ways. • Research on ECE quality and on early childhood curriculum has developed in silos. As a result, little is known about the reciprocal relationship between the quality of the setting in which curriculum is delivered and the features of curricula and curriculum implementation that support early learning for all children. Providing educators with the training and supports they need to develop warm and affirming relationships with all children; ensure inclusive, prosocial peer interactions; and provide consistent, supportive, and proactive management of the overall classroom social environment is an integral component of curriculum reform. Practices and policies aimed at effective curriculum delivery need to embrace this broader context within which educators teach and children learn. REFERENCES Aboud, F.E., Tredoux, C., Tropp, L., Brown, C. S., Niens, U., Noor, N. M., & Una Global Evaluation Group. (2012). Interventions to reduce prejudice and enhance inclusion and respect for ethnic differences in early childhood: a systematic review. Developmental Review, 32, 307-36. Acar, I. H., Hong, S.-. Y., & Wu, C. (2017). Examining the role of teacher presence and scaffolding in preschoolers’ peer interactions. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 25(6), 866– 884. https://doi.org/10.1080/1350293X.2017. 1380884. Adair, J. K., & Colgrove, K. S. (2021). Segregation by experience: Agency, learning, and racism in the early grades. University of Chicago Press. Administration for Children and Families. (2019). National Survey of Early Care and Education 2019. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/project/national-survey-early-care-and-education-2019- 2017-2022. AI/AN FACES 2019 Workgroup. (2021). Native culture and language in the classroom observation. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ainsworth, M. (1978). The Bowlby-Ainsworth attachment theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(3), 436-438. Akua, C. (2020). Standards of Afrocentric education for school leaders and teachers. Journal of Black Studies, 51(2), 107-127. Alanis, I. (n.d.). Effective instruction: integrating language and literacy. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED481649 Armstrong, A. L. (2021). The representation of social groups in U.S. educational materials and why it matters: A research review. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/briefs/the-representation- of-social-groups-in-us-education-materials-and-why-it-matters Asante, M. K. (1991). The Afrocentric idea in education. The Journal of Negro Education, 60(2), 170- 180. Assel, M. A., Landry, S. H., Swank, P. R., & Gunnewig, S. (2007). An evaluation of curriculum, setting, and mentoring on the performance of children enrolled in pre-kindergarten. Reading and Writing, 20, 463-494. Berry, D. (2012). Inhibitory control and teacher–child conflict: Reciprocal associations across the elementary-school years. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33(1), 66–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2011.10.002 Prepublication Copy, Uncorrected Proofs

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 A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum
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A high-quality preschool education can foster critical development and learning that promotes joyful, affirming, and enriching learning opportunities that prepare children for success in school and life. While preschool programs generally provide emotionally supportive environments, their curricula often fall short in advancing learning in math, early literacy, and science, and lack the necessary support for multilingual learners emerging bilingualism. Additionally, access to high-quality, effective early learning experiences may be limited and inadequate based on factors such as a childs race, location, gender, language, identified disability, and socioeconomic status.

A New Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curriculum examines preschool curriculum quality for children from ages three to five, with special attention to the needs of Black and Latine children, multilingual learners, children with disabilities and children experiencing poverty in the United States. The report articulates a vision for high-quality preschool curricula for all children, grounded in an equity and justice-oriented principles from inception to implementation and evaluation.

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