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Policy Expert’s Early Education Research More Than Child’s Play

William Gormley

William Gormley, who teaches in the government department as well as GPPI, has dedicated most of his research to early childhood education.

September 19, 2008 – William Gormley, university professor and Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI) interim dean, has devoted his research to early childhood education, and his current research aims to show the benefits of quality pre-kindergarten programs. 

As co-director of the university’s Center for Research on Children in the United States (CROCUS), Gormley works with a team of faculty researchers and student fellows on topics related to pre-K, child care programs and Head Start.

“We want to know which teacher choices and which classroom interaction patterns are most likely to benefit children,” says Gormley.

Tracking Tulsa Teaching Methods

Since 2001, the professor has directed an evaluation of Oklahoma’s universal pre-kindergarten program and focused on the effectiveness of the Tulsa Public Schools pre-K program in promoting school readiness.

Results of that evaluation have appeared in the Policy Studies Journal, the Journal of Human Resources, Developmental Psychology and most recently Science.

The results published in the June issue of Science indicate that participation in school-based pre-K and Head Start programs are more powerful predictors of certain test outcomes than gender, free lunch eligibility, a mother’s education or whether the biological father lives at home.

“That is both surprising and encouraging in that it suggests that we can overcome some of the really big demographic constraints that put many children at risk,” Gormley explains.

Oklahoma launched its social experiment with universal pre-kindergarten classes in 1998.

“The Midwestern state is now the nation’s leader in early childhood education, reaching approximately three-fourths of all 4-year-olds with state-funded pre-K,” Gormley explains

He and his colleagues at CROCUS determined the pre-K program in Tulsa Public Schools functioned as an effective means to enhance school readiness in young children. They found that children participating in the pre-K program possess noticeably higher test scores than those who did not participate.

“Disadvantaged children benefit the most, but middle-class children also benefit substantially from participation in a high-quality pre-K program,” says Gormley. “And that research has become an important part of the ongoing debate of whether we should have universal or targeted pre-K programs in the United States.”

Reaping the Rewards of Research

This past May, Gormley traveled to Tulsa with psychology professor and CROCUS co-director Deborah Phillips, associate professor of public policy Carolyn Hill and CROCUS fellows Catherine Edwards (G’09) and Shirley Adelstein (G’13) to present their findings to policymakers, teachers and administrators in Oklahoma.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see how our research was being translated into action on the ground and to observe some of the children and families who would hopefully benefit from our research,” says Edwards, who expects to graduate with a master’s in environmental and regulatory policy.   

Gormley and his colleagues have visited nearly every preschool classroom in Tulsa, but they still have questions about the program – such as whether children who have participated in pre-K are better adjusted, less timid or less fidgety in the classroom.

The professor credits CROCUS’s success to having a multidisciplinary faculty – economists, political scientists, psychologists and public policy analysts. He also credits the student fellows who have participated over the years.

“This has been a partnership, not just between Georgetown University and the Tulsa Public Schools, but also a partnership between faculty and students.” 

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