Educational researcher devotes May issue to ‘Report of the National Early Literacy Panel’

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 31, 2010 — The May 2010 issue of Educational Researcher (ER) provides a significant scholarly review of Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP). Educational Researcher is one of six journals published by the American Educational Research Association. In the special issue, NELP Panel members Timothy Shanahan and Christopher J. Lonigan provide a summary of the report followed by nine peer-reviewed commentaries written by literacy scholars who examine the report and offer suggestions for where it illuminates issues and where it is lacking or ambiguous. The commentaries are followed by two responses, written by Shanahan, Lonigan, and Christopher Schatschneider.

The National Early Literacy Panel (NELP) Report, issued in 2009, presents the work of the nine-member panel, convened in 2002 by the National Institute for Literacy, in consultation with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Education, Head Start Bureau, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report provides the findings of meta-analyses of approximately 300 studies showing which early literacy measures correlate with later literacy achievement. It also provides a series of meta-analyses on ways of teaching early literacy (preschool and kindergarten) that have been published in refereed journals. These analyses examine the effects of code-based instruction, shared book reading, home/parent interventions, preschool/kindergarten interventions, and early language teaching

The May ER takes up the topic of early literacy where Developing Early Literacy leaves off, by creating a forum for additional dialogue on future research that needs to be conducted, including translational research and research that will build a sufficient knowledge base concerning early literacy skill development.

“The nine [commentary] contributors to this special issue have a long-standing commitment to the early literacy field; they also have broad-based research expertise, an understanding of early literacy practice, and a grasp of the ways in which policy reports, such as the NELP report, if left unexamined, can influence research and pedagogy with unintended consequences,” writes Anne McGill-Franzen, the issue’s guest editor, in her introduction. “The views of these authors as well as those of the panel are widely respected, and their insight is critical, particularly now as early literacy policy is taking shape on a national level.”

Early literacy — the central focus of NELP — confers a transformative power on individuals, and there now is “a sense of urgency about the need for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers to understand the limitations as well as the strengths of the NELP report,” adds McGill-Franzen, Professor of Teacher Education and Director of the Reading Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Education.

Commentary authors also provide perspectives that look backward and forward, noted McGill-Franzen. As an example, she cited the lead commentary by P. David Pearson and Elfrieda H. Hiebert, which locates the NELP report “within the universe of scientific reports on reading research, spanning more than five decades’ worth of policy contexts.”

In a reflective article, Susan B. Neuman, formerly Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the George W. Bush administration, writes, “We need to expose children to language-rich and content-rich settings that can help them acquire the broad array of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that build a foundation for literacy and content learning.” Neuman, who conducts research on early childhood policy and early reading instruction in urban settings, is now Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan, School of Education. She argues that effective interventions must mediate a knowledge and technology gap between economically advantaged children and those who are poor.

Data reported by NELP underrepresented the importance of language, a slowly acquired and highly complex ability, David K. Dickinson and his colleagues contend. They expressed concern that schools will target the easier to teach code skills, such as letter knowledge and the ability to link sounds to symbols, rather than language and background knowledge, which are harder to teach and may require longer interventions.

Commenting on prekindergarten and kindergarten classroom instructional practice, William H. Teale and his colleagues argue that the NELP report is “both insufficiently clear and overly narrow with respect to what preschool teachers should be focusing on instructionally in early literacy.”

One of the many aspects of early literacy addressed in the ER commentaries focused on dual-language learners (DLLs). Kris D. Gutiérrez and her colleagues point out that dual-language learners are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States, and yet gaps in knowledge exist. They call for “a more expansive research agenda for young DLLs,” noting that the field would benefit from “longitudinal studies that examine how children exposed to two languages from an early age develop in relation to their specific individual differences and sociocultural contexts, including different types of educational interventions.”

The intent of the ER special issue is to provide an introduction to the NELP report and commentaries that foster continued conversation and inquiry around critical issues in the field of early literacy research and practice.

Educational Researcher, May 2010

Special Issue: The National Early Literacy Panel Report: Summary, Commentary, and Reflections on Policies and Practices to Improve Children’s Early Literacy

  • Guest Editor’s Introduction

    Anne McGill-Franzen, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • The National Early Literacy Panel: A Summary of the Process and the Report

    Timothy Shanahan, Chair of NELP and University of Illinois-Chicago and the Center for Literacy, and Christopher J. Lonigan, Florida State University and the Florida Center for Reading Research
  • National Reports in Literacy: Building a Scientific Base for Practice and Policy

    P. David Pearson and Elfrieda H. Hiebert, University of California, Berkeley
  • Recognizing Different Kinds of “Head Starts”

    Marjorie Faulstich Orellana, University of California, Los Angeles, and Jacqueline D’warte, University of California, Irvine
  • Lessons From My Mother: Reflections on the National Early Literacy Panel Report

    Susan B. Neuman, University of Michigan
  • Speaking Out for Language: Why Language Is Central to Reading Development

    David K. Dickinson, Vanderbilt University, Roberta M. Golinkoff, University of Delaware, and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University
  • Where Is NELP Leading Preschool Literacy Instruction? Potential Positives and Pitfalls

    William H. Teale, University of Illinois-Chicago, Jessica L. Hoffman, Miami University, and Kathleen A. Paciga, University of Illinois-Chicago
  • Confounded Statistical Analyses Hinder Interpretation of the NELP Report

    Scott G. Paris and Serena Wenshu Luo, National Institute of Education
  • The NELP Report on Shared Story Reading Interventions (Chapter 4): Extending the Story

    Judith A. Schickedanz, Boston University, and Lea M. McGee, The Ohio State University
  • Recasting the Role of Family Involvement in Early Literacy Development: A Response to the NELP Report

    Alanna Rochelle Dail and Rebecca L. Payne, University of Alabama
  • Advancing Early Literacy Learning for All Children: Implications of the NELP Report for Dual-Language Learners

    Kris D. Gutiérrez, University of Colorado, Marlene Zepeda, California State University, Los Angeles, and Dina C. Castro, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Developing Early Literacy Skills:Things We Know We Know and Things We Know We Don’t Know

    Christopher J. Lonigan, Florida State University and the Florida Center for Reading Research, and Timothy Shanahan, University of Illinois-Chicago and the Center for Literacy
  • Misunderstood Statistical Assumptions Undermine Criticism of the National Early Literacy Panel’s Report

    Christopher Schatschneider and Christopher J. Lonigan, Florida State University and the Florida Center for Reading Research

Editor’s Note: The full text of this special issue of Educational Researcher, “The National Early Literacy Panel Report: Summary, Commentary, and Reflections on Policies and Practices to Improve Children’s Early Literacy,” is posted on the AERA Web site: www.aera.net (http://www.aera.net/publications/Default.aspx?menu_id=38&id=9962)

The full text of the NELP Report, Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel, A Scientific Synthesis of Early Literacy Development and Implications for Intervention, is posted here: http://www.nifl.gov/earlychildhood/NELP/NELPreport.html

To reach AERA Communications, call (202)238-3200; Helaine Patterson ([email protected]) or Lucy Cunningham ([email protected]).

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the national interdisciplinary research association for approximately 25,000 scholars who undertake research in education. Founded in 1916, AERA aims to advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.

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