Ph.D. Dissertation Defense: Kaitlin Northey

Thursday, June 21, 2018 2:00pm - 4:00pm

GSE 211

Dissertation Defense

Leading from the top: A study of state early childhood systems leaders

Kaitlin is a doctoral student in the Learning, Cognition, Instruction, and Development concentration of the Doctor of Philosophy program.  

Committee: Dr. Sharon Ryan (Chair), Dr. Carrie Lobman, Dr. W. Steven Barnett, Dr. Teri Talan


The development of preschool systems and the expansion of leadership roles within these systems is evidence of a significant shift in how the early childhood field is being recognized. However, little is known about who is leading preschool system building efforts during this time of unprecedented change, as there is limited empirical research on state early education leaders.

This mixed methods study explored three main research questions: Who are state early education leaders and how did they get there? How do state early education leaders describe their work as system leaders? How do state early education leaders define and describe leading at the state level? Quantitative data was gathered using an electronic survey that was distributed to the population of state early education leaders (n=140), resulting in 89 survey respondents. Qualitative methods were then used to better understand the quantitative findings (Remler & van Ryzin, 2011) and gather first-hand accounts (Hardin, 1987) and in-depth descriptions of state ECE leaders’ work and experiences through two semi-structured interviews.

This study’s findings describe the demographics of state early education leaders and used leaders’ experiences working in the field to identify and map the most common pathways into early education leadership. Leaders work included developing and communicating visions for early education in their states and creating policies and systems to unify early childhood services and early education offerings with the K-12 system. However, leaders reported that the fragmentation of early childhood services and the limited authority they were given in their positions meant they could only engage in system building at a superficial level. Finally, leaders described how working in a female-dominated field and the positioning of early childhood education as “less than” K-12 influenced their behavior as leaders. This study begins to build a more robust research base on state systems leaders and provides important insights into what types of preparation and professional development support these leaders need.


Who to contact:

Ericka Diaz