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Strengthening the Architecture for High Quality Universal Pre-K


Since 2014, senior leaders in education research and practice at both New York University and the NYC Department of Education Division of Early Childhood Education (DOE-DECE) have fostered a research-practice partnership to support roll out of universal pre-kindergarten through Pre-K For All improving the quality of its programming. The purpose of this partnership is to provide quantitative and capacity-building solutions to educational problems faced by the DOE-DECE.

Current Projects

Strengthening School Readiness through Pre-K for All: A University-District Partnership

Support from the Institute for Education Sciences

(PI Morris, Co-PIs Cappella & Wallack)

The partnership work is sustained by support from the Institute of Education Sciences. With the current proposal, we will evaluate the impact of three differentiated professional development (PD) approaches, or “tracks,” that are implemented within the Pre-K For All system. Our goal is to produce new knowledge that informs future implementation of PD in NYC and advances research on pre-K systems at scale, in the “real world.” NYC serves a large, diverse student population, with Pre-K for All being available for all 4 year olds in NYC. This context provides a unique opportunity to examine a pre-K program at scale for a diverse population. We will address the following related aims:

  1. Evaluate the impacts of each PD track, relative to all other PD tracks implemented under Pre-K for All, on children’s academic skills, executive functioning, self-regulation, and behavior in pre-K and kindergarten
  2. Examine whether impacts of PD differ across subgroups of the children in Pre-K For All programs (e.g., groups with varying baseline risk)

Supporting New York City's Early Childhood Educators in a Global Pandemic: Challenges, Innovations, and Implications for Professional Learning

Support from the Research Foundation of the City University of New York, Early Childhood Research Network

(PI Abenavoli, Co-PIs Morris, Cappella)

This descriptive mixed-methods study aims to examine NYC early childhood educators’ experiences of supports and professional learning (PL) while navigating new challenges and modes of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, understand variation in these experiences, and identify major gaps in support and innovative solutions. By leveraging existing administrative data, administering surveys with program staff, and conducting in-depth interviews, we are gathering broad and deep information about PL experiences provided by the NYC Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Education and PL experiences initiated and facilitated by educators themselves. Our research questions are:

  1. What are NYC early childhood educators’ experiences with shifts in the PL process during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. To what extent do PL experiences vary across neighborhoods, programs, and individuals, with implications for supporting program quality and advancing equity across the Pre-K for All system?
  3. What challenges and innovative strategies related to PL have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with implications for future practice and policy?

Through this work, we strive to inform efforts to support educators within Pre-K for All and national early childhood education systems moving forward, as we emerge from the pandemic


Completed Projects

Strengthening the Research Architecture for High Quality Universal Pre-K: Leveraging the Opportunity of a Historic Expansion 

Support from the Spencer Foundation 

(PI Morris and Co-I Cappella)

Since 2015, the Spencer Foundation provides funding for the partnership work to (1) bolster the City's efforts to ensure that Pre-K For All services are high quality through the development of a quality monitoring framework; and (2) support the City's efforts to assess pre-K (and eventually, Kindergarten) children's developmental progress.

Using Data to Improve Quality: Formal and Informal Mechanisms Supporting Professional Development in NYC's Pre-K for All

Support from the Foundation for Child Development 

(PI Raver, Co-Is Morris, Cappella, Allen)

Funding from the Foundation for Child Development tackles the challenge of supporting classroom quality through professional development across classrooms and a large, rapidly expanding workforce. Through examining ways that senior leaders, administrators, and teachers understand and use data about classroom quality to inform PD, we aim to:

  1. Focus on the use of data among senior leaders in NYC DOE, their systems of monitoring and support for classroom quality, and their offers of PD for all teachers in all Pre-K For All classrooms
  2. Use social network methodology to learn how teachers and administrators understand and use data and PD on classroom quality
  3. Use qualitative methods to gain insights into teachers’ attitudes and experiences regarding data use and the improvement of teaching practice in early childhood education.


The NYU UPK team of faculty and research staff

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A photo of an assessor in a pre-kindergarten classroom

Being able to work with children in such a fun and meaningful way, knowing it's contributing to the improvement of education and well-being for all children in NYC, is the best work there is.

Katie, Pre-Kindergarten Assessor