Responsible Use of Technology and Screen Time for Early Education Success and Gains

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By: Dr. Benjamin Heuston, Waterford.org President & CEO

There has been a troubling trend in education as many have taken extreme positions regarding the use of technology for early learners.

Waterford.org Mission & Beliefs

At Waterford.org our mission is to blend the best aspects of learning science, mentoring relationships, and innovative technologies to form community, school, and home programs that deliver excellence and equity for all learners. Our core beliefs prioritize a long-lasting commitment to education excellence.

As a nonprofit, we strive to provide success from the start for all learners by reaching them at the most critical and influential time in their education. Waterford UPSTART not only successfully does this, but the program also reaches populations who otherwise would have no other early education opportunities.

The Impact of Providing Meaningful Equity & Access

Waterford UPSTART’s tech-assisted but human-powered learning model overcomes the most difficult early education access barriers for rural and underserved populations. These barriers include:

  • Scarcity of services
  • Cost of services
  • Access to or cost of transportation
  • Families choosing to keep their children at home
  • Children needing an additional cognitive boost
  • Children wait-listed for site-based programs, including Head Start or district PreK

Waterford UPSTART is not, and does not claim to be, an online preschool. It is an at-home kindergarten readiness program that helps children develop literacy skills they need to be successful when they enter kindergarten.

Waterford UPSTART has Proven Success & Lasting Results

The program has proven to be effective. Independent longitudinal studies have shown that graduates of Waterford UPSTART outperform nonparticipants, regardless of demographics, and the greatest gains were seen in at-risk populations. Additionally, these sustained gains continue through the 4th grade.

Waterford UPSTART has been recognized for its success, and philanthropic and government supports are given due to the overwhelming data that demonstrate that success. As such, Waterford has been awarded grants to facilitate the expansion of the program to serve even more children.

Waterford’s most recently awarded grant came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. The grant is called the Education and Innovation Research (EIR) Expansion Grant, the highest-tier EIR grant, and is only awarded to solutions that demonstrate “strong” evidence in a randomized controlled trial study.

More specifically, the Department of Education explains this grant is awarded for “implementation and a rigorous replication evaluation of a program that has been found to produce sizable, important impacts…”

Waterford UPSTART is Committed to Responsible Screen Time

Waterford UPSTART is a blend of family support from trained representatives who have weekly conversations coaching students and parents on educational best practices, and adaptive SaaS software that personalizes each child’s learning path based on individual needs. Waterford is very aware of screen time best practices and supports coaching families on the proper screen time recommendations from trusted educational experts.

The Waterford UPSTART usage model of just 15 minutes per day falls well within the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommendations of no more than one hour of screen time per day for the age group.

Moreover, according to the AAP, screen time in low-income families tends to be higher (hours per day), and lower in terms of quality and educational focus. This reality makes the Waterford UPSTART family engagement model especially important, as it educates, coaches, and encourages parents to limit and focus screen time on educational and prosocial content and to be actively involved in their children’s learning.

A Duty to Serve Children & Families

With this focus on providing families access to education and technology, 98% of parent participants felt that they had more power over the education of their child, 98% felt the Waterford UPSTART program was age-appropriate for their child, and 99% felt that the program prepared their child for success in kindergarten.

Waterford UPSTART has provided access to many of our country’s most underserved and undereducated. We feel it is important to see technology, when properly used, as a way to prepare early learners for bright futures, and we are perplexed that many feel this gift of scalable education access should be shunned because it doesn’t fit a traditional PreK model.

Waterford.org will continue to advocate for the responsible and data-driven use of technology for the greatest benefit to all children. We also will continue to call on education, government, and philanthropic leaders to support education innovation that will provide transformative changes in the lives of families. Policymakers, philanthropists, community leaders, and others who have the power to make proven, cost-effective educational solutions available to those in need have an urgent responsibility to do so.

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