What Focusing on Black Children in Research Means for Equity in Early Childhood Education

Why We Invested: Boston University’s Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED)
Ashley Beckner
Venture Partner
Cindy Minn
Fellow

Evidence-based policy. Data-driven decision-making. We often take at face value that ideas grounded in research lead to more equitable outcomes. But some of our most inequitable policies are

based on

this “evidence.”

Collected data is interpreted and analyzed by humans who, despite our best efforts, are never entirely objective. People even decide what data is collected—a choice that can be imbued with its own set of biases.

This does not mean that research can’t be used for advancing equitable policies. Indeed, behind many great policy movements is a body of quality research that laid the groundwork for change. But it does mean that who does the research is just as important as what is being analyzed and how.

The field of early childhood education (ECE) is no exception. Although the ECE workforce in the United States is disproportionately made up of women of color (at around 40%), much of the research that guides the field, including assessments of quality in ECE programs and the metrics used to measure progress, have key blind spots on race, which can affect the children served by ECE programs.

Ensuring that early childhood researchers are as diverse as the children and the workforce that they seek to understand is critical to producing better research that can inform more equitable outcomes. That’s the idea behind Boston University’s (BU) Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED), one of only two research centers in the country with a specific focus on the child care and early education needs of Black children. Since its launch in 2020, CEED has worked to bring a sharper racial equity lens to the ECE field by changing what and how research is conducted and by whom.

Ensuring that early childhood researchers are as diverse as the children and the workforce that they seek to understand is critical to producing better research that can inform more equitable outcomes.
Stephanie M. Curenton, Ph.D

CEED is the brainchild of Stephanie M. Curenton, Ph.D., a tenured Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and Applied Human Development at BU’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Her research focuses on the social, cognitive and language development of racially marginalized children and their families. Combining the quantitative with the qualitative, her work brings to life the stories and voices of Black families while drawing out critical findings backed by data.

With CEED, she hopes to bolster and elevate research on Black children by producing actionable research that can improve policy and society. “I believe that striving for social justice must start early, even during the prenatal period, if our society is truly committed to making the world a better place for future generations,” she said when announcing the launch of CEED last year.

One major aspect of CEED’s work focuses on refining and disseminating its Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES), a new framework for measuring the quality of early childhood programs that incorporates racial equity as a key component of classroom quality. Traditional quality measurement tools do not consider racial equity as part of their assessments, and as a result, tend to penalize the family care settings attended by many children of color and children from low-income families. Working with school districts and communities, CEED will help localities around the country reassess their approach to quality improvement and professional development so that their early childhood systems are more culturally responsive. CEED also hopes to capitalize on the renewed national momentum around early childhood education to elevate ACSES and other quality measurement tools that use a racial equity lens as new policies are developed and implemented.

To help build the research pipeline that can fuel a bigger movement toward racial equity in ECE, CEED co-leads the Researchers Investigating Sociocultural Equity and Race (RISER) Network with Equity Research Action Coalition at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The RISER Network creates opportunities for researchers to collaborate and advance research on Black children, disseminates knowledge for policy change, and mentors future generations of scholars focused on translating research to inform policy and practice. With the RISER Network, Dr. Curenton hopes CEED can build a bridge between the often insulated worlds of academic research and policy circles where decisions that affect the lives of Black children are made.

I believe that striving for social justice must start early, even during the prenatal period, if our society is truly committed to making the world a better place for future generations.
Stephanie M. Curenton, Ph.D, Founder of CEED at Boston University

The throughline of CEED’s work on ASCES and the RISER Network is a commitment to research that is grounded in the strengths and resilience of Black children and families. Much of the existing research on Black children is deficit-oriented, which unwittingly perpetuates a harmful narrative that has shaped the policies and programs that guide Black children’s development. Research that is conducted through an asset-based lens, like the RISER Network’s recent report on the experience of Black parents during the pandemic, not only shifts how we view the problem but, importantly, how we develop solutions.

Building a body of research that can fuel better solutions for Black children is key to Dr. Curenton’s vision for CEED. “It is my hope that CEED helps to change the narrative about Black children’s development and helps to build a pathway for improving their education and health,” she said in CEED’s announcement.

Imaginable Futures is committed to realizing a more equitable early childhood education system, which is why we are supporting CEED’s vision for the future of ECE research. With growing national momentum to make significant investments in ECE and an increasing awareness of systemic racism, CEED’s pioneering efforts to reshape research on Black children will help grow the roots for needed change.