NIEER Advances Early Education Research and Practice at Home and Around the World

Rutgers’ National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has shaped education policy in New Jersey, the nation and from Oslo to Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Tokyo, Sydney, Bogota, and Buenos Aires.  For NIEER’s founder Dr. W. Steven Barnett that provides a sense of having come full circle. 

Barnett grew up a Navy brat. Whenever the Navy would transfer his father to a new base, the family would move with him to a new town, state, or country. And for the young Dr. Barnett, it would mean yet another new school.

But all those schools (starting with preschool in the Philippines) gave Dr. Barnett an experience of education and its variations few have. It would eventually inspire him to create the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

“Schools shape society, but societies also shape schools” said Dr. Barnett. “Education also is not just the work of schools but of families and communities.”

An economist by training, Dr. Barnett became interested in the political economy of education and human development, and later studied the long-term impacts of the Perry Preschool Project.

The 1960s era demonstration project showed that enhancing greater levels of educational access and enriching an underserved child’s education from the age of three could alter a child’s life course.

“My job as an economist was to quantify the value to society of the positive changes early educational enrichment can make in children’s lives,” said Dr. Barnett. “It turns out even modest changes have tremendous value.”

That work eventually led to Dr. Barnett’s involvement in Abbott v. Burke, a historic case that successfully challenged how New Jersey financed public education. The court ordered state funded preschool education at high standards for every child in New Jersey’s 31 high poverty school districts.

“NIEER is continuing the work we started with Abbott,” said Dr. Barnett. “Much of that focuses on how to provide the rich early education every child deserves at scale—year after year and regardless of where the child lives.

NIEER has grown to become a leading center for early childhood education research and policy analysis, promoting effective teaching and learning, and advancing equity and social justice.

Whether in New Jersey, across the country, or around the globe, NIEER improves lives, and creates brighter futures, for countless children.

Among them, the children of fourteen towns in Colombia, South America.

aeioTU is a program offering early childhood education to children from birth to age 5 in diverse Colombian communities, seeking to transform the country through the empowerment of its early childhood. It worked with NIEER to improve education and monitor student development.

“The relationship with NIEER has also been integral to the development of our curriculum,” said Maria Adelaida López, aeioTU’s Executive Director.

“Through this collaboration with NIEER, we developed powerful tools that have had a tremendous impact on the development of children in our centers where we are finding that we are closing the achievement gap.”

Dr. Milagros Nores and Dr. Ellen Frede led NIEER’s work in Colombia.

“NIEER has also empowered us in terms of advocacy where we have shared data and results with the national and local governments to mobilize different sectors to improve public policy aimed at establishing high quality early education practices in the country,” said Lopez.

Dr. Barnett sees NIEER’s success with aeioTU as a model, guiding NIEER’s future work with international partners.

“We envision our international partnerships growing stronger,” said Dr. Barnett. “Our goal is to partner with others to make high quality early education accessible to all children across the globe.”