Press Releases

Equity is Advanced When Principles for High-Quality Early Learning are Developmentally Appropriate, Culturally Relevant, and Linguistically Responsive

Foundation for Child Development Grants in Action

New, York, NY — New research from The City College of New York (CUNY) and Teachers College at Columbia University illustrates seven principles of practice that offer an expanded definition for “high-quality early learning.” They recognize the promise and possibility of children’s lives, ensuring that the lived experiences of those who have historically been underserved and the growing numbers of multilingual children and children of color in our country are represented in their learning environments.

This research was informed by a cross-disciplinary effort that brings together the study of child development and the science of early learning, culturally responsive/relevant pedagogy, and multilingual development, laying the groundwork for better communication between early childhood educators and child development experts and improving practice as a result.

Researchers Beverly Falk and Mariana Souto-Manning and their team conducted a year-long study of nine prekindergarten classrooms representing three different socioeconomic communities in New York City. Their findings illustrate how putting the seven articulated principles into practice promotes high-quality early learning. In their report, Quality UPK Teaching in Diverse Settings, and an accompanying video (Principles for Advancing Equity in NYC UPKs), practices, behaviors, and attitudes are highlighted that are increasingly important as early childhood classrooms become more diverse and as New York City makes good on its promise that children from all backgrounds receive high-quality learning opportunities.

The findings of this study codify well-known concepts into seven core principles:

  • All children can learn;
  • Their learning is varied;
  • They are active and multimodal meaning makers;
  • They have diverse, fluid, and flexible language practices;
  • Their sociocultural contexts are assets and valuable resources for learning;
  • They are critical thinkers and inquirers; and,
  • They learn within the context of caring and reciprocal relationships.

“The primary contribution of this research lies in the observable behaviors described in the subprinciples,” says Souto-Manning. “From the way that teachers incorporate children’s cultures and language practices into the curriculum and how reflective of families and communities classroom materials are, to fostering advocacy or providing nutrition supports and culturally-relevant family engagement opportunities — these approaches position a child’s family and community as central to their learning and development.”

The researchers used qualitative research to identify these tangible teaching strategies, tools, and approaches that represent the principles. They were visible not only in the teaching of academic skills, but also in:

  • The curriculum, materials, and the symbols on walls which incorporate the experiences and interests, cultures, and languages of children’s varied backgrounds;
  • Language practices used with children and families to further children’s learning in their home language;
  • Supports and programs made available to families, such as health, homelessness, violence prevention, and fostering resources;
  • The opportunities provided for families to partner with educators and be resources for children’s learning at home; and,
  • The many ways that the community’s contexts and resources were incorporated into children’s learning in culturally-relevant ways.

Importantly, the researchers found that the quality of teaching in classrooms was determined by the degree to which educators enacted these principles, rather than only by formal instructional tools and the communities’ available resources, demographics, and/or socioeconomic status. This finding is timely as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it necessary for learning to increasingly take place in children’s homes and communities rather than in the physical context of the classroom.

“As our city, state, and country continue to face the impacts of COVID-19, it is significant to note that the principles were observed as important contributions to children’s development across all the different demographic communities,” says Falk.

This research provides a framework that should be used in professional learning. The authors conclude with several recommendations based on the findings:

  1. Learning is more than academics. It also requires care and support for young children and their families including health care, nutrition, counseling, educational opportunities for families, resources to address food insecurity, homelessness, housing needs, rent, violence prevention, abuse, and fostering. Schools/centers should address these supports.
  2. Ensure that all early childhood educators have child development and depth of preparation in early childhood education. This, alongside salary/benefit parity, will support a high-quality and diverse teaching workforce and retain teachers in community-based centers.
  3. Schools and centers need to recruit and sustain the development of teachers who value and reflect the identities, cultures, languages, and backgrounds of the children they teach; schools/centers need to provide professional development to support developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant/sustaining, and multilingual teaching.


This research was made possible by the New York City Early Childhood Research Network, a unique partnership of researchers from the city’s higher education institutions who work with the New York City Department of Education, New York City Administration for Children’s Services, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity to study the implementation of New York City’s early childhood system and use the knowledge gained to improve instruction and outcomes for all children. This study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development. The New York City Early Childhood Research Network is a project of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York and is funded by Early Childhood Partners NYC, Foundation for Child Development, Heising-Simons Foundation, and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation.


Beverly Falk, Ed.D.
Professor and Director, Graduate Programs in Early Childhood Education
The School of Education, The City College of New York

Mariana Souto-Manning, Ph.D.
Professor and Director, Early Childhood Education Programs
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 West 120th Street
New York, NY 10027

Kate Tarrant, Ed.D.
Director of Research and Evaluation
New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute
16 Court Street, 31st Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11241