Education Talk Radio: “Research Proves the Value of Early Childhood Education”


On this episode of Education Talk Radio, host Larry Jacobs sits down with Kathleen Petersen, a former UAEYC Principal of the Year and NAESP National Distinguished Principal with Utah’s Washington County School District. Joining Kathleen is Anne Brown, VP of Business Development at Waterford.

Kathleen and Anne speak about incorporating Waterford Early Learning software into the PreK curriculum at Washington County School District. Differences in state funding allowed for the district to directly compare the effectiveness of a blended approach using classroom-based and software-based instruction against a classroom-only approach. Standardized test results allowed the district and the state to analyze the effectiveness of the two programs.

Highlights Include:

  • Creating a test environment to assess the value of Waterford Early Learning
  • Providing early accessibility and personalized learning to PreK students
  • An analysis of test results comparing students who used Waterford Early Learning and those who didn’t

Listen to the podcast on and continue reading below for the full transcript. Learn more about Waterford Early Learning, our technology-based reading and math program for PreK-2.


Education Talk Radio: ““Research Proves the Value of Early Childhood Education” Full Transcript


Larry Jacobs (Host, Education Talk Radio): Well good afternoon everybody. It’s the afternoon for me anyway. In fact, it’s about 10 seconds past afternoon or into the afternoon as we like to say. My name’s Larry Jacobs, this is PreK-12 Education Talk Radio. It’s Election Day. Okay, everybody go vote, okay. Congratulations to all of you that have already done so and I hope like when I say it again tomorrow everybody I’m talking to has voted, alright. People died for your right to go do this so do it, alright. It’s really, really important. All right. It’s a wonderful day, Election Day always is a celebration of democracy if I may. So we’re going to celebrate it with my good friends from Waterford Institute. We’re going to, we’ve been talking to my guests today Kathleen Petersen and Anne Brown. And we’ve done shows before on the value of early childhood education and as all of you know, I deal a lot with accessibility, I deal a lot with equity. All right. And it’s key that all children have an excellent early childhood education, we know this. Okay. And if all children have access to that, that word accessibility, all right, we’ll see a brighter future for all of them, better schools, better learning, etc. We have our magazine, it’s digital so it’s over on the website, The ACE stands for Accessibility, Compliance, and Equity. We’re going to archive this show over there as well as over here on the website, and here at education-talkradio so I’m looking forward to having a really good conversation this Election Day. And actually I’ve got to bring my two Utah friends on because I used to live in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor and now he’s going to be your senator. Right, Kathleen?

Kathleen Petersen (Fmr Principal, Washington County School Dist): Well I went out and voted this morning. So we’ll see tonight if he is.

LJ: Yes, he’s predicted, well I don’t mean to imply that you voted for him but I meant to imply that I was reading today that he’s got this big percentage lead right now.

KP: A huge percentage lead.

LJ: So you’re going to get one of my old senators, one of my old governors, OK.

KP: Absolutely. I’m hoping he does come out the winner.

LJ: Well I think you’re going to get your wish. OK. I think you’re going to get your wish. Anne, my old governor, your new senator? How’s that work, Anne Brown?

Anne Brown (VP of Business Development, Waterford): I know. Good morning Larry. Well I think he’ll do a good job for us. So you know, we’re lucky he’s got a connection to Utah.

LJ: Well, he did a good job in Massachusetts. Did a very good job.

AB: Right, no I agree.

LJ: Yeah. And so of course he ran for president. OK. But you know he’s done, when he’s been in office, he’s done a very good job. That’s all I have to say. I wish him well. Tell him I said hello.

AB: The big thing in Utah is he ran the Olympics for us.

LJ: Of course.

AB: And of course was the first first Olympics to ever be profitable, so.

LJ: He was amazing with the Olympics. Yeah, he did a great job. So it’s going to be it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be an interesting day and we’ll all be up late watching results that won’t come in for at least a week. So we’ll just do that. We all do it, everybody’s going to, it’s a good day to buy a pizza or fried chicken and just sit there and munch all night, you know. Kathleen and Anne, welcome back. OK. Anne Brown is the Sales Director over at Waterford Institute. My good friends, is that your title? That’s your title, isn’t it, Anne?

AB: No, I’m actually Vice President of Education and Business Development. So we have someone else who runs the sales, Todd Stevenson.

LJ: So, I got that completely wrong.

AB: Close enough. Anne Brown was close enough, we don’t have to worry about titles.

LJ: It was wrong. We don’t. Because you’re wonderful to have on the show, you’re with me all the time. But you’d think I would know that but I don’t. And Kathleen, hi welcome back.

KP: Thank you, it’s great to be back.

LJ: It’s a pleasure to have you here. Title I director, preschool director, independent consultant, you have KP Consulting, Kathleen Peterson. OK, for the Washington County school board that’s in Utah. All right, of course she has the famous e-mail, everybody ready, if you want to get in touch with her. Inkoil. I love it. All right, Secondary English forensics teacher, elementary principal, preschool director, regional service center director, district level Title I director, National Blue Ribbon School Principal, Redbook’s America’s Best Schools, the Governor’s School of Excellence, IRA Principal of the Year, UAE, you must have a big mantle for all these awards, UAEYC Principal of the Year and NAESP National Distinguished Principal. All right. Congratulations.

KP: A lot of fun years there.

LJ: Wow, it’s amazing. She was there all of three years, no I’m just kidding. Okay. Anne, how many awards do you have?

AB: Zero. I just work all the time.

LJ: No you have, you have the Larry Jacobs Education Talk Radio Award for Excellence for guests from Utah.

AB: All right. Thank you. I like that one.

LJ: You’re welcome. It’s great honor. It’s great.

KP: Do I get one of those?

LJ: Yes you do Kathleen.

KP: Wow.

LJ: Yes you do. Okay. I’m going to talk about this whole thing in terms of equity and accessibility. OK. Cause this is the key, and I’ve said this so many times I can’t say it enough, anybody doesn’t understand yet that early childhood is where the money needs to go to. It’s going to make everything cheaper in the end and make it better in the end. OK. Kathleen you were Washington County School District, right?

KP: Yes.

LJ: OK. Which district is that, where is that in terms of good old Utah?

KP: Well it’s at the very bottom of the state. You could almost jump into Nevada from Washington County. And we are, our largest city is St. George. Washington County takes in seven little communities plus St. George, Utah.

LJ: And as you know I’ve been there and one of those communities is Hurricane. Looks exactly like hurricane, but its Hurricane. I know that, ok, I got yelled at.

KP: You got it right.

LJ: I know I did. I know I did. The county did a research study to examine the results between two preschool programs. What programs were they? What about the study and why’d you do that? What was going on?

KP: Well when I came to this position, the county school district had a preschool program for special ed students, students with IEP’s. And they had a few typical children in that preschool to meet the requirements for typical peers. When I took over for Title I, we looked at where the money was being spent. And like you just said, we believe that the accessibility to an equitable education had to begin before kindergarten.

LJ: Here here.

KP: And so we started a Title I preschool. In 2016, the state Office of Education and the Utah legislature put out a grant that allowed entities to enlarge or expand their preschool programs. It was the expansion grant, and we applied for it as a Title I preschool and also our special ed group applied for their, for a grant also separately, because we ran these preschools independent of each other. The special ed group was funded for the expansion because the state agreed with the type of curriculum they were going to use. In the Title I preschool, we were already using the Waterford Early Learning software well, and the state asked us to give that up if we accepted the money and we said no we won’t give that up because our results had been great in the past. So that decision by the state set up a research project that allowed us to look at the two preschool programs independently and run them for a full year independently and look at the results of it at the beginning of the year, the pre-assessment, and the post-assessment and compare how the students did with the two separate programs.

LJ: Yes, and…?

KP: So, at the end of the program, the Title I, well at the beginning of the program, the Title I students scored much lower on the pre assessment than the students in the state-funded program. And the reason for that was the, each program had approximately 600 preschool children, four-year-olds. The Title I preschool, 590 of those children qualified for free and reduced lunch, were poverty children. Of the 600 in the state-funded program, only 120 were poverty students, 480 were self-pay students. And so in the pre-assessment, the state-funded preschool, the children scored much higher than our poverty children, which was to be expected. A lot of times the poverty children don’t have access to the same opportunities in early childhood that [non] poverty children do. And so in the beginning, our children were much lower. At the end of the year, for the post-assessment, the Title I children that entered much lower, outscored their affluent peers significantly.

LJ: Wow. What did, when you saw that, what did you say? Wow, that’s that’s pretty amazing. What did you say?

KP: Well we expected it but we went back and looked at why. We had to ask the question why were, what were the differences in the learning? And so we started by looking at the differences in the program, in the two programs, and the state-funded program was three hours a day, and our Title I program was only two hours a day. Both programs four days a week. So our children were, the Title I children were spending four hours a week, in fewer hours in school, than the state-funded program. The state-funded program was using certified teachers and the Title I program was using Aides or CDAs.

LJ: Really?

KP: Yes. And so you would have expected that the poverty children to score lower. But the difference came in the curriculum. The state-funded program was a play-based curriculum with no blended learning. They had no software and no use of technology at all. In the Title I program, we had a whole-child approach with emphasis on physical development, cognitive development, and social-emotional development. And then in addition to that focus on those three parts of the curriculum, every child spent 15 minutes, four days a week, on the Waterford Early Learning software.

LJ: Yeah. Well, doesn’t surprise me.

KP: So those were the the major differences in the program at the end of…

LJ: Yeah. I’m sitting here fairly fascinated by what you say because it’s, what Waterford does, and it’s a research institute, what Waterford does, they don’t put anything out there unless it’s well-researched and everybody knows that, and what struck me, if we go back a few minutes in this show. OK. What struck me was the fact that the legislature or whoever it was, however you want to say that, Department of Education said, no wait you have to drop the Waterford stuff at the beginning because we’re going to use this other thing. And thank God you guys tested it. I mean obviously the results, It’s just amazing.

KP: It is amazing. And if you look at the actual results, the 600 children in the state-funded, play-based program, out of the 600 at the end of the year even though they only had 120 poverty students out of the 600, their average end-of-year score out of 168 was 115. Now compared to the Title I program that included the Waterford software, 590 of those children were poverty children, and their average score at the end of the year, again the state funded program was 115, the poverty kids 152 out of 168. And out of our 590 children, 254 scored a perfect 100 percent score on the assessment for alphabet recognition. The play-based group, eight of them. Eight children out of 600 knew their alphabet.

LJ: Anne, you’re Queen of Waterford. Queen Anne. OK. When you hear this stuff, what do you think? That’s who you work for, but what do you think? What goes through your mind?

AB: Well I think it’s important. I, the reason we have Kathy on the show is I think it’s important that people understand that it does matter, it matters what kids are doing every day and it matters how even 15 minutes a day gets used and there’s research behind it. This is this is really phenomenal research, but this is research that we’ve found in different ways throughout our entire, throughout our entire existence which is why we put out, we’re putting in a research stance behind it. But I think it’s important, I think it’s important that people understand that there is a difference. And you need to be looking for results when you’re making decisions for kids.

LJ: Boy that is, and what you just said, there is a difference. I mean there is a difference in early childhood education what’s put out there, and you know it’s tested, etc. You know Anne, let me stick with you for a second. We know that the results were better. OK. We know that but, and I want to get into the specifics here. What makes, what does the Waterford software do that the other software didn’t? What was it Anne? And then we’re going to go to Kathleen.

KP: Larry, let me interrupt for a second.

AB: The other group didn’t have software at all and the other group had total choice for the children. I think one of the things that’s key to the work Kathy was doing is that she still allowed kids a lot of choice, but they had two things they had to do every day, and correct me if I’m wrong Kathy, they had to spend 15 minutes with the teacher and they had to spend 15 minutes on Waterford.

KP: That’s correct.

AB: The rest of their time was choice-based and whole child. But it’s, you know, we think of Waterford as like diet and exercise, Larry, we’re not asking you to spend your whole day on it but you need to work. You need to work consistently. You know, it’s the little bits that make a difference every day, and it’s that 15 minutes that makes the difference and it’s not just like you know, random 15 minutes on reading, it’s scaffolded, structured, research-based curriculum working at the pace of the child that makes the difference day in and day out for this kind of success.

LJ: And measuring the pace of the child. OK. Are we taking that into consideration when we look at the results from the two? All right, cause some kids have special needs, other kids are a little bit behind, whatever the case may be. OK. When you look at the research, does it even it all out in the research? So you can really see the results one-to-one.

KP: is that question for me?

LJ: It’s for either of you. It doesn’t matter, but let’s ask Kathy.

KP: I would like to address that. In the study that we did, we only tested the typical children. The children with IEPs did not complete the assessment. We were assessing the affluent children, all the self-pay children in the state program, and our poverty children. We tested all 600 of the poverty children in the Title I program and the children coming in with poverty issues tested lower in the beginning and higher in the end. And so I do believe the equity played into that in terms of, they were certainly capable of learning, they just needed the access.

LJ: Exactly. And the right tools, I might add, the access to the right things. OK.

KP: The thing that I believe made the biggest difference is that in the Title I program, like Anne said, the children still had a lot of choice. They still worked on social emotional development, they still worked on executive function skills, they had math skills, but the consistency of the Waterford software provided equity for every child. Because that software adjusts to the learning speed of the child. It does interim assessments on the software that shows the software where the child is. And if they’re missing a piece that’s already been taught, the software goes back and teaches it in another way, a different way. So the software actually is a guarantee of a high-quality instruction for every child regardless of what teacher they end up with in the classroom.

LJ: I was thinking, it’s like software as personalized learning. Everybody’s after personalized learning. OK. And here you have the software doing exactly that. If the child doesn’t learn one way, it teaches them another. It picks up on that and I have to pick up on a theme here that both of you mentioned, OK, and that is the word consistency. There is a consistency to the Waterford approach that makes sense all through this learning process. And I think that therein lies a big difference, that it’s consistent, it takes it’s time, it’s patient, it moves with the child, it doesn’t force them along, etc. It’s just a consistent pace and a consistent learning pace that makes sense. If I may do your next ad for you, Anne, that’s what I hear.

AB: Consistency is key.

KP: And the software also provides the child with immediate and positive feedback. And there’s no embarrassment. There’s no comparison to the kid sitting next to you that you’re always doing well on the software.

LJ: You know, it’s amazing that you would say that they were talking about really young kids and you would say, you know and competition of course is there, but it’s so, it’s not that it would be built into kids so young that there would be an embarrassment if you weren’t keeping up. But of course that’s there, and this protects the kids from that. I like that.

KP: It does.

LJ: It’s just, yes. Amazing that It’s in children so young. But I guess it was in all of us. It’s just amazing. So when all was said and done Kathy, what happened? OK. How’d the district work out? Everything, they get the results, what happens next?

KP: OK. At the end of the year we looked at the results for both programs and the data was so overwhelming in favor of the blended learning program that our school board and our superintendent came back to the preschool directors of the two programs and said we want all children to have access to this. And we said to the school board, well if you, if we use the model that was used in the Title I preschool, the state’s going to withhold the money for the TANF funding and the school board said to us, we want our children to have the best program possible. And so we’re going to say regardless of whether we lose the funding or not, we’re going to put all of the children including all of the children with IEP’s in the blended, Title I model. So last year, for 2017-18, we combined both of the programs, and all 1200 children got the same program that the Title I children had gotten the year before which was the blended model with a classroom aide and the children in class for two hours and a half and all children regardless of their IEP or not, had 15 minutes on the Waterford software. The results across the board were 166 percent gains, including assessing all of the special ed children last year. And so, the model works regardless of whether you’re working with affluent children, poverty children, or the special ed children.

LJ: It works. It just works and like you said, it works with all kids. I’ve got to say something, your school board really, they deserve like, they deserve my kudos with everybody else’s kudos and they certainly deserve the kudos of the people in the community. OK.

KP: Well the nice thing is, when the state saw the results, they let, they kept funding the program, even though we kept this software.

LJ: Happy ending. I like that. It is a happy ending. It’s a good ending. And I have to tell you, I hate to overuse the phrase, it’s a win-win. Everybody wins.

AB: It is. And you have to give credit to the state, right? Their initial plan was to be able to do research and make sure that what they were doing was the best thing, was the best thing for students.

LJ: So yes they got their research.

AB: That’s how we all improve.

LJ: Yeah, it is. It is. You know, all they had to do was call me and I could have told them all this.

AB: We’ll do that next time Larry.

LJ: Next time. It’s a lot cheaper, I have to tell you. One other thing before we go here, and this is important, we’re talking about academic learning and improvement and achievement. But I did want to talk to you about the, and this is key these days and especially key and younger kids, is the social-emotional side of it OK. Anne, can you talk about that for a minute then we’ll go to Kathy but just give us the word on the social-emotional side of what you guys do for the school districts at Waterford.

AB: You know Larry we have another, we have another study that just came out, I don’t know, a month or two ago from the state, assessing the social-emotional development as well as the academic development of our UPSTART children. So our children who are using our at-home school-readiness.

LJ: Right, the UPSTART program.

AB: The findings, and that might be another show, but the findings were phenomenal. And basically they compared UPSTART children to children who had public pre-K and children had private pre-K and they assessed social-emotional development as well as academic development or academic readiness. And the UPSTART children came out on top of that. And I think it has a lot of things to do with what Kathy’s discussing besides the fact that we were really supporting the parents and the families in that to become supporters of their children, but, you know, social-emotional development really happens when kids find success. And if you’re successful, that breeds success. And you know, so there’s always this, people think there’s this disconnect between technology and social-emotional development. And again I agree with you there’s not, you can have too much technology, but at small doses, with the right tools behind you, and helping children achieve that feeling of success as well as true success you know, helps build their confidence and helps them persevere to the next thing and and have grit to keep trying. So you know, we’re seeing great results with social-emotional development as well.

LJ: I think I think it’s wonderful, Kathy, that was Anne, wasn’t it? That was Anne, right?

AB: That was Anne, yeah.

LJ: Kathy, social-emotional.

KP: The software addresses social-emotional through the literature and activities that are introduced. Each of the pieces of literature teaches the children different social-emotional skills and once they read and sing the songs addressing those skills, then the teachers can reinforce those as specific incidents come up in the classroom. The parents can also use those stories to jump into lessons at home whether they’re interacting with their siblings, whether they’re interacting with adults, whether they’re interacting with peers. And so those issues are addressed by the software and then I love the point that Anne made. When children use software, they learn persistence and problem-solving and grit because we all deal with technology issues and when we began the program, we were told that four-year-olds couldn’t handle the software, or the hardware. And I can tell you that a four-year-old can run a trackpad better than I can.

LJ: The whole time you were just saying that, I had a smile on my face because I’m the world’s worst. Ok, you might think you’re the world’s worst, I’m the world’s worst. And it’s amazing to see the kids work these things. It’s just [indistinguishable] they’re just that we call them digital natives, and I don’t know how that happened. But somehow genetically they fit right in. OK, I don’t know how that happens, maybe it blows Charles Darwin’s theory off the roof that it takes millions of years to evolve or kids evolve pretty quickly with all this stuff. This is a wonderful show and I’m so, these results. It’s just always so impressive. But the bottom line is, yeah we can talk about Waterford, we could talk about Washington County and all that. The kids are doing better. The kids are learning. The teachers are happy, OK, and everybody is getting more well-rounded in learning and it’s better that’s all. And it’s important. It’s so important. You know when you’re going to really see the results? Five, six years from now when these kids are in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade and have so much more confidence than they would have otherwise. it’s going to be that simple.

KP: Well, when they graduate from high school and become productive citizens because they started out on a level playing field with their peers.

LJ: That’s exactly right. It’s all it boils down, it’s always about equity and accessibility.

AB: You know Larry, kudos to the state of Utah because the state really puts a focus on early childhood learning. And if you look at the last set of NAEP results that you know, that feel pretty dismal to the country, Utah is 10th in reading scores for fourth grade, we’re 51st in funding for our children. So we’re doing a lot with a little and we’re also one of the few states that’s been recognized as…

LJ: How could you be 51st? There’s 50.

AB: Well, we’re behind D.C. So D.C. goes in there too. I mean we’re behind all of them but D.C. goes in to make 51.

LJ: Oh

KP: D.C. goes in separate than the state.

LJ: Wow. OK. That makes sense, of course, but wow.

AB: But you know, but the state is doing a great job.

LJ: You can put your mind to it, you can do it. I mean I always have these shows with you, I know they’re doing well. I know Utah cares about it and somehow they’re making it happen. They can always add more, yeah.

AB: Yeah.

LJ: I’m pretty impressed. I got to tell you.

KP: Well and that’s part of the research is that we’re trying to do better by researching and picking the best programs.

LJ: And you do. And you do. I love it. Kathy Petersen, thank you so much. And Anne Brown, Queen Anne of Waterford thank you,

AB: Yeah let’s skip that moniker next time.

LJ: The young Queen Anne, the young Queen Anne.

AB: Ah, there you go.

LJ: Okay. Thank you, ladies.

AB: All right. Thank you Larry.

KP: Thank you Larry.

AB: Thank you.

KP: Bye.

LJ: Bye bye ok. That’s Anne, my friends, Anne Brown, got her title mixed up there at the beginning of the show, from Waterford, please check it out it’s great stuff OK. And Kathy Petersen who is over at Washington County Schools, keep that one pretty simple OK. They’re great, I love having them on. We’re going to archive at Think about early childhood education. Think about equity. Think about accessibility. And for God sakes, today’s November 6th, vote. I’ll leave it there. Thanks for listening. I’m going to go vote now. Have a great day.


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