WestEd’s Prentice Starkey recently served on two expert panels in the nation’s capital on the latest research in early math education, specifically the importance of acquiring mathematical knowledge in the early years and how it is a strong predictor for later school success.

Starkey presented on his recent research, conducted with collaborator Alice Klein of WestEd. Their research focused on cross-national and cross-socioeconomic gaps in young children’s mathematical learning and development, and interventions to close these gaps.

The two congressional events — one held on Capitol Hill and the other at the U.S. Department of Education — were convened by Friends of the Institute of Education Sciences, an education coalition of which WestEd is a participating member.

Starkey and his fellow expert panel members disseminated significant findings to congressional staff, agency officials, school administrators and leaders, and the education policy and research community about the research that has been funded by the Institute of Education Sciences on different aspects of math education for developing learners.

“Research presented by my fellow panelists and me showed the risk of ignoring early difficulties in mathematics experienced by many children from low-income families and the long-term benefits of early intervention,” says Starkey, who has studied children’s early mathematical development for more than 20 years and published in Science, the first paper on the origins of numerical knowledge in infants.

Starkey, Co-Director, along with Klein, of the Center for Early Learning in the Science, Technology, Education, & Mathematics (STEM) program at WestEd, presented the following key findings from his research at last week’s two events:

  • American children lag behind their peers in China and Japan in early mathematical knowledge, according to cross-national research. A cross-national math gap is present by age 3 years.
  • Economically disadvantaged children lag behind their middle-class peers in early mathematical knowledge, according to cross-socioeconomic (SES) research. A cross-SES math gap is present by age 3 years. It is risky to ignore this gap, says Starkey, because math knowledge at school entry (grade K) is the strongest single predictor of later school achievement in general (Duncan et al., 2007).
  • Persistent math difficulties in elementary school is the strongest predictor of failure to complete high school and to enter college.
  • Math intervention research has been found to close or significantly reduce the cross-SES math gap and to have long-lasting effects.

Both congressional events were sponsored by the Friends of the Institute of Education Sciences, with principal co-sponsors WestEd, American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and Society for Research in Child Development. Additional co-sponsors were the American Sociological Association, Knowledge Alliance, and Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences.

Below is a list of Starkey’s related research:

  • Starkey, P., & Klein, A. (2008). Sociocultural influences on young children’s mathematical knowledge. In O. N. Saracho & B. Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on mathematics in early childhood education (pp. 253–276). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
  • Klein, A., Starkey, P., Clements, D., Sarama, J., & Iyer, R. (2008). Effects of a pre-kindergarten mathematics intervention: A randomized experiment. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 1, 155–178.
  • Lonigan, C. J., Phillips, B. M., Clancy, J., Landry, S. H., Swank, P. R., Assel, M., Taylor, H. B., Starkey, P., Klein, A., Domitrovich, C. E., Eisenberg, N., de Villiers, J., de Villiers, P., Barnes, M., & the School Readiness Consortium. (in press). Impacts of a comprehensive school readiness curriculum for preschool children at risk of educational difficulties. Child Development.