Groundbreaking research by Betty Hart, Todd Risley, and Marilyn Adams suggests that young children, particularly those from families living in poverty, are arriving at school already at such a significant disadvantage that they are almost uneducable.
At the same time, James Heckman, an economist and Nobel Laureate, has demonstrated the importance of concentrating financial investments on the youngest preschool children, where the return on investment appears to be the greatest. As a consequence of Heckman’s research, about eighty percent of states have introduced some version of a universal preschool approach.
On the other hand, Susanna Loeb, a Stanford scholar, noted in a Policy Analysis for California Education Report that about two-thirds of children in America currently attend a preschool, and while attendance generates modest intellectual gains, the data on the behavioral impact of preschool on the children is negative to mixed at best. Her data are drawn from a longitudinal government study of over 14,000 students, and her work heightens the importance of finding alternative solutions to institutionalized preschool.
UPSTART: A Revolutionary Solution
Seen through the lens of Hart, Risley, Adams, Heckman, and Loeb, the problem is much larger and more diffuse than previously understood and begs for a revolutionary solution. Waterford Institute’s UPSTART (Utah Preparing Students Today for A Rewarding Tomorrow) program offers just such a revolutionary solution. Using state-of-the-art hardware and software, UPSTART treats the preschool years in the home as a resource to triage this academic neglect.
The overall goal of Waterford Institute’s UPSTART pilot program is to reach 1,300 four year olds in Utah. Of that number, thirty percent come from Utah’s lowest SES, and those children’s homes are provided with both the necessary hardware for the program and Internet connectivity to support participation in the program.
The “Waterford Institute’s Bundle”: The Core of Waterford Institute’s Response to a Unique Challenge
Waterford Institute’s approach to implementing the UPSTART program centers on the “Waterford Institute’s Bundle” which is comprised of:
- Rusty and Rosy Learn with Me™—which delivers three years of reading, math, and science via a small portable USB hard drive which plugs into the home computer through the USB port
- Camp Consonant™—a multi-sensory reading intervention program that provides an animated, web-centric, cost-efficient software tutoring system designed to help children with reading difficulties, including dyslexia.
- Waterford Assessments of Core Skills™ (WACS)—a validated computer adaptive reading test that does not require the presence of a trained adult to administer it and can establish an accurate indication of reading readiness or competence for children who cannot read.
A Unique Support System
In addition to powerful educational software,Waterford Institute also provides a special support organization for participating children and their parents or caregivers. Unlike a typical support organization which is passive in relation to users except when there are problems and questions to be solved, the UPSTART support organization maintains frequent contact through written materials, DVD and online training, emails, and telephone calls. The strategy is to provide families with a steady stream of data on children’s usage, performance, and needs, as well as to introduce motivational strategies for maintaining parent and student interest.
Waterford Institute believes with the right technology-based curriculum, training, and support, the home can play a crucial role in children’s education, and technology can transform the home into an exciting and successful learning environment uniquely individualized to serve each child’s learning needs. The home/technology program, in fact, defines a new educational frontier, and, with UPSTART, Utah becomes the leader in the implementation of this revolutionary approach.
UPSTART offers a strong academic program for four year olds while encouraging and drawing upon the use of the home’s resources. The project also provides an important demonstration and proof of the extraordinary educational power of technology.
By extending the benefits of individualized interactive instruction to the home through the use of technology, UPSTART provides an important path-breaking model. In concert with the software, UPSTART provides participants with a revolutionary support organization designed to be both proactive and interactive as it initiates an ongoing dialog with the families.