Steinhardt Center Receives $2.5 Million NSF Grant for Study of Child Development

The Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education (CRCDE) at NYU Steinhardt was recently awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for research on how cultural beliefs and practices in homes and schools shape different aspects of child development among predominantly low-income, ethnically diverse populations in New York City.

This is the second consecutive 5-year grant from NSF awarded to four faculty members from Steinhardt’s department of applied psychology: Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, professor; Diane Hughes, associate professor; Niobe Way, professor; and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, professor. Other funding sources include the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Titled “The Study of Culture, Social Settings, and Child Development across School Transitions,” the research aims to generate new knowledge on the developmental experiences of children from diverse ethnic backgrounds, especially during the transitions to preschool/elementary school and to high school. Since the majority of students entering urban high schools are Latino, Asian, or African American, the success or failure of these populations during these high-stakes transitions has long-term implications for the U.S.

“What we’re finding is that our research challenges common stereotypes about ethnic minority children and families,” said Tamis-LeMonda. “Since these stereotypes inform educational, political, and social institutions, our research has the potential to both advance science and theory on human development as well as inform social policy and educational practices.”

Building on the Center’s research from the past 5 years, the new research study will include approximately 900 families of Chinese, Mexican, Dominican, African American and European American descent. While traditional child development research focuses on White middle-class families, the Center’s research includes young children (4-7 years) and adolescents (13-17 years) of understudied minority and immigrant groups, making it unique to the field. Drs. Tamis-LeMonda and Yoshikawa are co-directors of the early childhood cohort and Drs. Way and Hughes are co-directors of the adolescent cohort.

“What our initial research suggests is that there exist both similarities and differences in the experiences of children and families across ethnic groups,” said Tamis-LeMonda. “For example, we find many similarities across ethnic groups in the goals parents have for their children. Parents from all groups express a commitment to education and a desire for their children to do well in school, for example. What we’ve found, however, is that there are differences in parents’ beliefs about the ways to achieve those goals.”

“Moreover, parenting practices vary across groups,” she continued. “Some parents view close friends as an essential ingredient to their children’s learning, whereas other parents view close friends as an impediment to learning.”

The Center has reported a number of preliminary findings. Among the early childhood cohort, there exist large disparities across ethnic groups in children’s access to reading materials, engagement in learning activities (such as bookreading and storytelling), and interactions with parents. These differences are associated with children’s language development already by 14 months of age, and early disparities increase with children’s age.

Among the adolescent cohort, students report racial bias, both in and out of school. Most often, it emanates from peers rather than from adults. Moreover, adolescent reports of race-based discrimination by peers are significantly associated with their psychological adjustment. The study found higher rates of depression and lower self-esteem among adolescents who had encountered racial discrimination.

Additionally, many of the immigrant parents studied do not have access to driver’s licenses, savings or checking accounts. For parents in such households, the study found higher levels of economic hardship and psychological distress, which in turn predicted children’s early cognitive development.

Since its inception in 2002, the four investigators of the Center have published their work in more than 50 scholarly publications, 75 presentations, and dozens of workshops, policy reports and training sessions to agencies, councils, schools, and hospitals.

In addition, the Center has worked with more than three dozen ethnically diverse NYU students, including postdoctoral fellows, predoctoral, masters level, and undergraduate students, helping to foster the next generation of scholars to engage in the study of culture and development.

Since its inception in 2002, the four investigators of the Center have published their work in more than 50 scholarly publications, 75 presentations, and dozens of workshops, policy reports and training sessions to agencies, councils, schools, and hospitals.

In addition, the Center has worked with more than three dozen ethnically diverse NYU students, including postdoctoral fellows, predoctoral, masters level, and undergraduate students, helping to foster the next generation of scholars to engage in the study of culture and development.