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The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled

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How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement: Policy Recommendations

 Recommendations of the National Expert Panel
commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
on Increasing the Application of Knowledge about Child and Adolescent Development and Learning in Educator Preparation Programs

Table of Contents


Increasing the Application of Knowledge About Child and Adolescent Development

and Learning In Educator Preparation Programs: National Expert Panel

Resources for the National Expert Panel


What Research Tells Us

What is the Importance of Integrating Developmental Sciences into Educator Preparation Now?

Effective Application of Developmental Principles Makes a Difference in Student Learning and Engagement

The Current Status of Child and Adolescent Development Science in Educator Preparation Programs

Key Principles for Integrating Child and Adolescent Development into Educator Preparation Programs

Policy Issues and Challenges: Integrating Child and Adolescent Development Science into Educator Preparation

Policy Recommendations


This report summarizes two papers commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), with funding from the Strategic Knowledge Fund, a partnership between the Foundation for Child Development and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The Strategic Knowledge Fund supports projects that increase knowledge about children from birth to eight years old and their families, particularly children who are at risk for poor educational outcomes. The Strategic Knowledge Fund provided support to NCATE to promote “integration of child and adolescent development deeply and concretely into the preparation of America’s teachers.” The A. L. Mailman Foundation also supported this project.

NCATE conducted a reputational study and, with the support of the Foundation for Child Development, created a National Expert Panel on Increasing the Application of Knowledge about Child and Adolescent Development and Learning in Educator Preparation Programs. The Panel met four times between 2008-2009 and produced two commissioned papers. Briefs of those commissioned papers have also been produced, as well as this report, entitled The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement: Policy Recommendations. All are available at The papers and related materials may be downloaded from the website by clicking on “Research and Reports” in the “Public” section or ordered as publications by clicking on “Publications” at

This work was preceded by a collaboration between the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and NCATE to determine the current level of integration of child and adolescent development in educator preparation programs and the current state of developmental sciences knowledge. The effort found gaps between what is known and what is taught in educator preparation programs. That report is available at by clicking on “Research and Reports” in the “Public” section. The Foundation for Child Development then initiated the effort that produced this paper and other related materials in order to produce actionable recommendations for the education and education policy communities.

It is the strong desire of the Strategic Knowledge Fund leadership that the recommendations contained in the briefs, papers, and final report of this effort receive the utmost attention from the education and policy communities and that the organizations named in the section on policy recommendations, as well as other education stakeholders, take concerted and timely action to implement the recommendations.


“Education in our country must move beyond the rhetoric of saying that ‘all children can learn’ to dealing with the realities of what this actually means in terms of teaching and learning. In my opinion, the most significant question in public education is: how do we address the needs of all learners?”

 These are the words of Amber Damm, 2009 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Damm correctly identifies the most important problem facing public education in our country today: how do we address the needs of all learners? We believe that the answer to her question can be found in recent advances in scientific knowledge about child and adolescent development.

A 2007 report issued by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) says, “aspects of development — neural, cognitive, social, psychological, physical and ethical — have far-reaching effects on children’s ability to learn.” In other words, if teachers are to address the increasingly diverse needs of all of the children that are entering today’s classrooms, they need access to scientifically-based knowledge concerning student development and learning. Many educators, however — both teachers and administrators — have not been prepared to understand and apply advances in the developmental sciences in their schools and classrooms.1

To address this issue, in 2007, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) convened a national expert panel to develop recommendations for strategies to increase application of the developmental sciences in educator preparation. As part of this effort, NCATE commissioned two papers designed to bring attention to this critical need.2

This report summarizes the key points from the commissioned papers and contains the expert panel’s recommendations for key stakeholders (see page 17). A summary is as follows:

  • Educator preparation programs should ensure that candidates possess contemporary knowledge of child and adolescent development and understand its effective application in the PreK-12 classroom.
  • Accrediting bodies should adopt standards for educator preparation programs that incorporate specific evidence of candidates’ mastery of the core competencies associated with knowledge of child and adolescent development.
  • States should ensure that the knowledge base of child/adolescent development is integrated into all routes to teaching.
  • When relevant, explicit use of “knowledge and application of the contemporary developmental sciences knowledge” should be added to review criteria for U.S. Department of Education grant programs, particularly those that pertain to educator preparation and evaluation and to school turn-around.

What Research Tells Us

Recent reforms aimed at increasing student achievement have focused primarily on what can be termed basic academic skills. A robust research base, however, tells us that student success in school requires a combination of social, emotional, and academic/cognitive competencies (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor and Schellinger, in press). New common core teaching standards developed through the Council of Chief State School Officers acknowledge this triumvirate of key domains associated with learning. To maximize student achievement, teachers and schools must effectively address all of these aspects of development.

Educators must understand key findings from cognitive science in order to plan and implement instruction and diagnose and remediate individual learning needs. Linda Darling-Hammond and John Bransford provide an excellent overview of this knowledge base in Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do (2005).

Just as importantly, extensive developmental research indicates that effective mastery of social-emotional competencies is associated with better school performance, while failure in these areas can lead to personal, social, and academic difficulties (Eisenberg, 2006; Guerra and Bradshaw, 2008; Weissberg and Greenberg, 1998). There is a proven connection between the emotional and instructional climate for learning and student outcomes (Pianta, 2007; Eccles et al., 1999). Research indicates that teachers with a developmental background design and carry out learning experiences in ways that support student academic and social competence (Comer et al., 1996). The importance of successful relationships in schools (teacher to student and peer to peer) has also been correlated with positive social and academic outcomes (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Wentzel, 2003).

A recent meta-analysis of 213 school programs implementing developmentally-focused approaches to social and emotional learning involving almost 300,000 K-12 students found an 11 percentile point gain in student achievement, reduced disruptive behavior, and increased pro-social attitudes and behaviors (Durlak, et al. in press). A 2003 meta-analysis (Borman, Hewes, Overman, and Brown, 2003) found that the Comer School Development Program, based on developmental sciences knowledge, was one of only three school reform models “to have clearly established, across varying contexts and varying study designs, that their effects are relatively robust and that the model[s], in general, can be expected to improve students’ test scores.”

Teacher knowledge of the social, emotional, and cognitive domains, coupled with the ability to effectively apply strategies based on developmental principles, translates to increased student engagement and improved learning outcomes. These improvements are observed in students of all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, a point of significance to policymakers anxious to close the achievement gap between more and less advantaged students. The Comer School Development Program, for example, engaged five school districts in its systemic reform process from 1998 to 2003. The U.S. Department of Education funded an evaluation of the program’s impact. From 2001, when the program was first fully implemented, to 2004, the achievement gap between black students and white students closed rapidly in Asheville City Schools (Comer, J. and Emmons, C., 2006). Other similar results are evident