Research News

Vanderbilt University to collaborate on new $40 million National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning

Mary Louise Hemmeter

Helping foster children’s learning and readiness for school through the federal Head Start program is the goal of a new National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, created this fall with a $40 million grant from the Office of Head Start. Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College is one of seven institutions that will compose the center, which will begin its work Jan. 2, 2011, and will last for five years. Approximately $5 million of the grant will fund research at Vanderbilt.

The other participating institutions are the University of Washington College of Education Haring Center, which will lead the effort, University of Virginia, Iowa State University, University of Southern Florida, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

“For over 20 years, my colleagues and I have been doing research on effective instruction and I am pleased that this center will provide the opportunity to use that knowledge to improve the quality of Head Start services all over the country,” Mary Louise Hemmeter, associate professor of special education and the lead Vanderbilt researcher on the project, said. “With this center, the federal government has made a long-term commitment to improving the quality and maximizing the effects of Head Start, and I am excited to be a part of that.”

The goal of the new center is to provide leadership in the area of best practices in teaching and learning for Head Start training and technical-assistance providers, consultants and grantees.  The center will be an integral component to ensuring that the federal investment in Head Start helps foster children’s learning and readiness for school.

The team of collaborators includes early learning experts in the fields of early care and education, early childhood special education and early intervention.

Center researchers will:

  • Gather, review and catalog research-based practices in the areas of early childhood assessment and curriculum, instructional practices, parenting curriculum and training curriculum;
  • Develop and disseminate products in these same areas for use by Head Start programs and families;
  • Gather and review data to measure improved quality and student learning in Head Start classrooms;
  • Put proven-effective practices into every day use through professional development of Head Start staff;
  • Develop, implement and evaluate a coaching and mentoring system that includes a continuum of coaching approaches;
  • Establish a system with states and regions to sustain the use of these best practices;
  • Develop and implement higher education strategies to ensure that Head Start teachers and other staff meet higher education requirements, and
  • Develop and implement an approach to help ensure the successful transition of Head Start students to elementary school by building connections among all of those involved including parents, children, teachers, pre-K staff and kindergarten staff.

The center will ensure staff access to a professional development system that provides individualized support and development, including the establishment of a “Head Start University” concept that will engage nationally recognized leaders in the field to develop comprehensive, research-based college courses that can be offered for credit online or in person.

“One of the goals of the center will be to develop and implement a coaching and mentoring system to help Head Start teachers implement evidence-based practices related to teaching and learning,” Hemmeter said. “[rquote]My colleagues and I have developed and evaluated a coaching approach. We are excited to be able to scale up that approach with teachers all over the country.[/rquote] “

The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning is one of four new centers created by the Office of Head Start in September. The centers are part of the redesigned Training and Technical Assistance system, which aims to provide Head Start teachers and program staff with the knowledge and skill to use best practices/evidence-based practices through a system of training and technical assistance providers, early childhood specialists and consultants.

The new center is the fourth national research center at Peabody College. The others are the National Center on School Choice, the National Center on Performance Incentives and the Developing Effective Schools Center.

The Head Start program was inspired by the work of Susan Gray in the 1960s at Peabody College, which merged with Vanderbilt University in 1979. Gray’s landmark Early Training Project was one of the first experimental studies to implement a preschool curriculum and family-based intervention for low-income children. That project, in collaboration with fellow researchers H. Carl Haywood and Nicholas Hobbs and with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., laid the foundation for Head Start.

For more information about Peabody College, visit