Educators Ill Equipped to Close the Achievement Gap Without the Developmental Sciences

Despite growing evidence that developmental issues impact students' learning, little effort has been made to ground school reform and educator preparation in the developmental sciences, according to a new report issued by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the professional accrediting organization for schools, colleges, and departments of education.

The report, "The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement: Policy Recommendations," is based on the work of the three-year period of an expert panel that was co-chaired by James P. Comer, M.D., M.P.H., the director of the Yale Child Study Center School Development Program (SDP), and Robert C. Pianta, Ph.D., dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. 

NCATE unveiled the report at a press conference on October 5th at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Developmental sciences, which include the science of child and adolescent development and neuroscience are given short shrift in educator preparation a and school reform, according to the study. Titled “The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement: Policy Recommendations,” the report was prepared by a multi-disciplinary panel of experts and draws on more than a decade of research linking teachers' ability to address social, emotional, and cognitive development with increased student achievement results. 

"Teachers cannot educate the 'whole child' if they are only half-prepared. And they cannot improve learning if they don't know how to help address the social, emotional, and cognitive needs of children and adolescents," noted Comer. "A well-functioning school, or a good school culture and climate, can seamlessly reinforce and build on development that took place before school. A dysfunctional or ineffective school environment can interfere with the development of all students, but particularly among those who did not have a good pre-school experience."

Dr. Comer said that many teachers and administrators, through no fault of their own, have not been prepared to create a school climate or culture that will intentionally focus on development in the service of academic and overall learning and development.

Two commissioned papers were also released at the press conference: "Increasing the Application of Developmental Sciences Knowledge in Educator Preparation" and "Principles and Exemplars for Integrating Developmental Sciences Knowledge into Educator Preparation." The latter report highlights the implementation of the Comer School Development Program in the Asheville City Schools in North Carolina as an exemplar of school- and district-wide application of child development knowledge and principles.


Report Findings

  • Teacher preparation programs provide inadequate coursework in the developmental sciences, including cognitive science and the science of child and adolescent development.
  • Programs must integrate academic study in the behavioral sciences with real opportunities to implement child and adolescent development best practices in classrooms and communities.
  • Policy makers must consider the importance of child and adolescent development as they design new standards and assessments of evaluating student and teacher performance, particularly when turning around low-performing schools, whose students are often in particular need of developmental supports to improve achievement.

The NCATE report urges policy makers, higher education institutions and other teacher preparation programs, and other stakeholders to revamp educator preparation programs to improve teachers' knowledge of child and adolescent development by: 

  • Acknowledging the need to address developmental issues in turning around low-performing schools. Most turnaround models currently focus on management, data use, leadership, and school organization to improve student learning. Evidence suggests that culturally specific knowledge of child and adolescent development can improve student learning in schools that serve high-poverty, high-need communities.
  • Incorporating child and adolescent development research throughout the curriculum as part of a framework that explores the interconnections between how students develop and learn.
  • Ensuring that educator candidates have opportunities to apply child and adolescent development principles.
  • Developing new tools and resources to guide educators in learning and improving developmentally sensitive instructional techniques.
  • Including child and adolescent developmental strategies in standards and evaluation systems.

To download the three reports and watch videos of each presentation at the press conference, click here.