Magnuson: ‘Don’t Cherry-Pick Outcomes’

Magnuson: ‘Don’t Cherry-Pick Outcomes’

Katherine MagnusonStop worrying so much about whether or not early childhood education programs are working, researcher Katherine Magnuson told School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) doctoral students during a recent guest lecture and lively discussion in Annenberg Hall.

“The more important question is ‘how do we get the program to serve kids more effectively?’” said Magnuson (PhD03), professor and doctoral program chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Social Work. “It may not be a one-size-fits-all answer.”

Magnuson, speaking in the same classroom where she once sat through orientation as a doctoral student, discussed her research on early childhood education as part of the Human Development and Social Policy Program Colloquium Series.

“SESP gave me important foundations in empirical research and critical thinking,” Magnuson said afterward. “I still remember key points from my professors; Dan McAdams explaining the importance of attachment research, Dan Lewis convincing us all that we could become qualitative researchers, and Tom Cook saying he never believes anyone’s dissertation findings,” Magnuson said.

Magnuson’s research focuses on the development and well-being of poor children and their families. She looks at how economic disparities affect a child’s development and how these effects can be altered by policies and programs, especially early childhood education programs.

Her most recent research, a comprehensive review published in Educational Researcher, found lasting effects of quality early childhood education through high school.

During her talk, “Leveraging Meta-Analytic Methods to Inform Successful Early Childhood Education at Scale,” Magnuson advised students to resist cherry-picking particular outcomes and instead holistically analyze the purpose of early childhood education programs.

“There are lots of interesting early childhood questions yet to be asked and answered,” Magnuson said. “Focus on learning more about how to improve program quality, rather than asking ‘does it work?’

“Think about it as formative evaluation,” she added. “You don’t just want to know whether a student knows math; you want to know how they understand math and what can be done differently to improve the program.”

Previous HDSP colloquium speakers have included alumna Susan Popkin (BS82, MS86, PhD88), senior fellow in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center and director of the Program on Neighborhoods and Youth Development at the Urban Institute; and Christian Maroy, professor at the University of Montreal and Canada research chair on education policies.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/29/17