Testimony

Statement by
G. REID LYON, PH.D.
CHIEF, CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND BEHAVIOR BRANCH
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CHILD HEALTH AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

on
HEADSTART
before the
SUBCOMMITTEE ON LABOR, HHS, EDUCATION AND RELATED AGENCIES
COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

March 25, 2004

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am Reid Lyon and I serve as the Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB) within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is an honor to speak to you today about our current efforts in understanding child development, particularly with respect to early childhood development and the development of the cognitive, social, emotional, language, early literacy and early numeracy abilities critical for school readiness and long- term success in school.
The mission of the NICHD is to “ensure that every person is born healthy and wanted, that women suffer no harmful effects from the reproductive process, and that children have the chance to fulfill their potential for a healthy and productive life, free of disease or disability”. Today, I am pleased to discuss with you the research supported by the NICHD that bears directly on fostering the development of children from birth to school entry to ensure that they are physically robust, emotionally healthy, socially competent, and cognitively ready to learn.
We believe that our NICHD supported research in early childhood development is critical for several reasons. First, we have learned that the quality of our children’s early development has a significant impact on their entire lives.
Second, and more specifically, the more that parents, child and health care professionals and teachers (preschool through high school) know and implement about what children should learn during early childhood and the factors and conditions that support cognitive, social, and emotional development during this period, the greater the probability that children will succeed in growing up healthy and in formal schooling.
Third, we have learned that without the benefits of informed, evidence-based, and coordinated comprehensive early childhood programs to help develop language, social, emotional, emergent literacy and math abilities during the preschool years, many children, particularly from impoverished backgrounds, are not only likely to experience difficulties in school, but the emotional, social, and occupational deprivation that follows on the heels of school failure.
Fourth, we have learned that if we do not ensure that ALL our children are ready for school, the damage to their futures not only reflects an educational problem, but a public health problem as well. For example, children who do not develop a strong language and literacy foundation during the preschool years frequently have difficulties comprehending and using oral language and developing strong reading and writing skills. As Secretary Thompson pointed out at the 2001 White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development, “without reading skills, you can’t read a prescription, a warning label, or stay abreast of medical news that could benefit your and your family’s health.”
Fifth, we have learned that we must work closely and collaboratively with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education and particularly the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) to continue to build a science of early childhood development that informs policy makers, families, and teachers as we move forward to develop and implement early childhood programs that are effective in optimizing physical, social, and emotional development and school readiness for ALL of our nation’s children.

A SUMMARY OF SELECTED RESEARCH PROGRAMS IN
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT AND SCHOOL READINESS
AT THE NICHD

The NICHD currently supports extensive research on the biological, cognitive, educational, behavioral, socioemotional, cultural, and familial factors that influence early childhood development. For the purposes of this testimony and because of space limitations, I will summarize selected research efforts that bear most directly on the issue of early childhood development as it relates to school readiness. Because the Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB) within the Center for Research for Mothers and Children (CRMC) is responsible for many of the research programs relevant to this area, I will briefly summarize the mission and scope of each of our seven Branch programs and then focus on recently inaugurated initiatives in early childhood and school readiness, the development of English language and reading abilities in children whose first language is Spanish, and mathematics development and disabilities.

The Research Program in Cognitive, Social and Affective Development; Child Maltreatment and Violence

This program, the largest in the CDBB, develops scientific initiatives and supports research and research training relevant to normative cognitive, social, affective, and personality development from the newborn period through adolescence and on the impact of specific aspects of physical and social environments on the health and psychological development of infants, children, and adolescents. Of interest are studies of child development processes in high-risk settings (e.g., families experiencing stressors such as poverty, unemployment, parental depression as well as violent and/or abusive environments).

| The Research Program in Developmental Psychobiology and Cognitive Neuroscience


This program develops research initiatives and supports research and research training to study linkages among human behavior, genetics, and the developing brain. Of particular interest are studies that develop knowledge about growth patterns of brain and behavior and that shed light on normal developmental processes at the molecular, genetic, cellular, and neural network levels. For example, a major multi-site and multidisciplinary study is now underway to identify normal brain structural development patterns through the use of non-invasive neuroimaging methods. This information will be critical to both researchers and clinicians in order to determine atypical brain development.

The Research Program in Behavioral Pediatrics and Health Promotion Research


This program initiates and supports research and research training in behavioral and developmental pediatrics and focuses on the role of behavior in relation to health, growth and development from conception through young adulthood. Emphasis is placed on the identification of risks in childhood and adolescence which are linked to childhood injuries, illness, eating disorders, chronic disease, and early sexual debut.

The Research Program in Human Learning and Learning Disabilities


This program develops research initiatives and supports research and research training programs to increase knowledge relevant to normal and atypical development of reading and written language abilities from kindergarten through elementary school. This is the Branch’s oldest research program which now supports a reading research network comprised of 44 research sites with over 45,000 children currently participating in the studies. This program has supported research to not only understand how children learn to read and to determine why some children have reading difficulties, but also has supported the development of reading assessment and diagnostic instruments and conducted 12 clinical trials to identify effective reading instructional programs. Converging evidence from this research program has served as the foundation for the growing emphasis on evidence-based reading instruction.

The Research Program in Language, Bilingual and Biliteracy Development and Disorders; Adolescent, Adult, and Family Literacy


This relatively new (initiated in 1998) research program initiates and supports research to better understand language development and disorders, and reading and written language development and disorders in bilingual/multilingual children. The bilingual research program has been focusing on the development of English and Spanish reading abilities among 5,400 children whose first language is Spanish and the identification of instructional factors that are most beneficial in fostering English reading abilities. Within this network of research sites in eight States (California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Utah) as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, research teams at Harvard University, Utah State University, and Pennsylvania State University are focusing on the development of critical emergent English and Spanish reading abilities among preschoolers whose first language is Spanish.

The Research Program in Early Learning and School Readiness


This new research program initiated in 2002 develops and supports research to specify the interactions and experiences children need from birth to age eight to prepare them to learn, read, and succeed in school. Projects supported to date focus on early interactions with adults and peers and the development of early education programs to develop language, literacy, social and emotional capabilities in a comprehensive and integrated fashion. With respect to the latter, the research program supports a research network of developmental scientists at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Indiana University, the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago, and the University of Nebraska. These teams are studying interventions to prepare at-risk children for success in school across the range of settings that serve young children. This funding of the research network is a strong example of current interagency collaboration as it is supported by NICHD, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), both within HHS, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) within the U.S. Department of Education. This research program has also developed a comprehensive initiative to support the development of assessment and measurement tools and strategies to provide psychometrically sound data on children’s competence across multiple domains of functioning in early childhood.

The Research Program in Mathematics and Science Cognition and Learning – Development and Disorders


This, the newest research program in the CDBB also initiated in 2002 develops and supports both basic and intervention studies in all aspects of mathematical thinking and problem solving, as well as in scientific reasoning, learning and discovery. In December, 2002, this program developed an initiative titled “ Mathematics Cognition and Specific Learning Disabilities” in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) and subsequently funded five major projects that are currently focusing on a range of issues to include: (1) studies of the neurobiological and genetic substrates of mathematical learning; (2) the longitudinal analysis of deficits in number estimation; (3) studies of subtypes of mathematics disabilities; (4) normative development of specific mathematics competencies; and (5) classroom interventions for disabilities in mathematical problems solving. Children participating in these landmark studies include youngsters who have learning disabilities in mathematics, children who display both reading and mathematics difficulties, children who have attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and youngsters with specific genetic disorders including Turner syndrome, Williams Syndrome, and Fragile X Syndrome. Among the researchers contributing to this initiative are developmental scientists from Vanderbilt University, the University of Texas Health Science Center, the University of Missouri, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania State University. In addition, NICHD supported scientists are examining early development of critical early precursors of mathematics development among preschool infants and preschool children at Harvard University, Yale University, and Carnegie Mellon University.

THE SIGNIFICANT ROLE OF INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION

The development of the early childhood research initiatives, the bilingual research initiatives, and the mathematics and science research initiatives reflect an uncommon degree of interagency planning and collaboration. For example, the focus and scope of our recent research program to support rigorous scientific studies of the effectiveness of integrated early childhood interventions and programs to promote school readiness was done in close collaboration with the Institute of Educational Sciences and with co-funding from both ACF and ASPE within HHS and the OSERS within the U.S. Department of Education. Likewise, our research program in the development of early reading and skilled reading abilities among Spanish speaking children was discussed in the planning phases with researchers and program officials from the U.S. Department of Education with subsequent co-funding from this Department. Moreover, the OSERS within the U.S. Department of Education worked closely as a planning and funding partner in the development of the research program in Mathematics Development and Disabilities. These systematic collaborations have allowed NICHD to avoid duplication of scientific effort while leveraging resources for critically needed research on issues that are essential to our understanding of early childhood development.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

We at the NICHD are dedicated to the goal of ensuring that all of our nation’s children develop, learn, and thrive to the maximum extent possible in their homes, their schools, and their lives. The research initiatives that I have summarized are designed to serve as the scientific foundation for the development of programs that parents, child care providers, teachers, and other developmental scientists have access to trustworthy information that can help foster optimal development for all children. We must continue to collaborate with our sister agencies and programs to better understand through research how we can productively support families and parents, particularly those from disadvantaged circumstances, with effective programs and usable information about child development. While some studies are now underway, we have a long way to go before we clearly understand what preschool teachers need to know and do to prevent later school failure among children who by age three already have significant gaps in language development and emergent literacy and numeracy concepts. We have to develop teacher preparation programs and dissemination strategies to make sure that all involved in the development of our children not only have access to usable and practical information, but can apply it. This effort will require genuine collaboration across all groups to include researchers, educators, parents, and policymakers to stretch beyond our typical boundaries and make sure that what we learn from our research is translated rapidly into practice.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to respond to your questions and comments.

Last Revised: March 25, 2004