High quality instruction is essential to producing developmental gains for young children and can mitigate risk factors such as family poverty and low parental education. Even in programs with highly qualified teachers, teacher-child interactions often do not provide the level of instructional support that children need to be well-prepared for success in kindergarten. In order to improve instructional quality, an emerging focus on early childhood professional development involves supporting leaders in creating a web of supports for teacher learning and child growth. The purpose of the 3-year evaluation study was to assess the effectiveness of an Early Childhood Education Professional Development Initiative (ECE PDI) in advancing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of community-based early childhood leaders and teachers in relation to creating the conditions for superior developmental outcomes for low-income students served by these community-based centers. Findings from the implementation and impact studies are reported.

Key Take Away Points

  • The key components of the PDI were implemented as intended. This evidence suggests that establishing routines supportive of teacher collaboration and learning is feasible in urban community-based early childhood centers.

  • The PDI learning experiences for leaders appeared especially effective in broadening narrow “transactional” leadership frames to include the more inclusive and ambitious mindsets associated with a “transformational” leadership repertoire.

  • An examination of trends in average social-emotional and organizational support domain scores, as measured by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, did suggest an “upward” improvement trend at the infant, toddler, and pre-K levels. However, no statistically significant trends emerged, in part due to small sample sizes and low statistical power.

  • Children with greater exposure to the ECE PDI yielded a statistically significant growth rate in their Social Emotional Learning and Development.

Author Biography

Samuel P. Whalen Director of Research in the Center for Urban Education Leadership. He received his PhD from the Department of Education at the University of Chicago in 1993. Before joining UIC, Dr. Whalen was a Senior Researcher at Chapin Hall Center for Children, Research Director at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, and Research Assistant Professor in Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. His areas of expertise include school leadership preparation, high school reform, school-community partnerships, youth development and program evaluation. Heather L. Horsley is a former early childhood educator who then moved into K-12 settings in the Chicago Public Schools and continues to teach teachers in higher education settings. Currently she is a Senior Research Specialist holding joint appointments in the Center for Urban Education Leadership and Center for Literacy. Heather earned her doctorate in Policy Studies in Urban Education at University of Illinois Chicago. Her overall research agenda is concerned with analyzing urban school reform models and in-school curricular programs that school reform leaders publicly justify as programs of opportunity. Kathleen K. Parkinson is a research analyst in the Center for Urban Education Leadership. Her research interests include measurement, evaluation, statistics, and assessment. Debra Pacchiano, Vice President, Research to Practice Improvement is an educational psychologist and applied researcher who conceptualizes, implements, and evaluates practice development and professional learning models that generate higher quality implementation and continuous improvement of practice and outcomes in early education settings. Currently, she is Co-Principal Investigator on a measurement development project to create teacher and parent surveys that assess organizational supports in early education settings essential to continuous improvement and children’s learning. he recently directed an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education to design and independently evaluate an organizational intervention that develops instructional leadership and systems of job-embedded professional learning that enable early education programs to generate improved teaching and learning outcomes. Her design and development work through the i3 grant is now the foundation of a scaling effort, Lead Learn Excel, to provide quality improvement support services across Illinois, in both school- and community-based early education settings, and in additional states. Debra achieved her Ph.D. from Indiana University in Educational Psychology with emphasis in School Psychology and Early Childhood Special Education.


This research was supported supported by a grant awarded to the Ounce of Prevention Fund by the US Department of Education's Investing In Innovation program including a private match from the Stranahan Foundation. We thank our colleagues from The Ounce of Prevention Fund who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted the research, although they may not agree with all of the interpretations/conclusions of this paper. We thank Jaime Madison Vasquez, MEd for assistance with development of the implementation study database.