Sabol Promoted to Associate Professor

Sabol Promoted to Associate Professor

Headshot of Terri Sabol, smilingOne of Sabol’s research areas looks at how to assess and improve early childhood education.Psychologist Terri Sabol, who examines how classrooms, families, and neighborhoods impact a child’s early development, has been promoted to associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy.

Sabol, a former first-grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools, is a developmental psychologist and an expert in how programs and policies can strengthen the early and extremely formative years of childhood in the United States.

“Our nation is facing many challenges and opportunities in child and family policy,” she said. “We’re at a major turning point. My goal is to use the science of child development to maximize the growing investment in early childhood education.”

Sabol’s research focuses on two key policy areas: assessing and improving early childhood education; and strengthening parents’ education, employment, and income to also benefit the child, which is known as the two-generation approach.

Professor emerita Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, who founded the Two-Gen field, called Sabol an “innovative and broadly-expert researcher” whose scholarship ranges from developing new measures of child development and statistical approaches to examining the role of race in preschool settings. She rounds out her scholarship by looking at state and federal policies that can strengthen the early childhood education and childcare systems, Chase-Lansdale said.

One of Sabol’s most recent projects studies how the recent expansion of universal prekindergarten in Chicago will impact four-year-olds from lower income backgrounds and affect the overall childcare landscape, which was upended by COVID-19.

Using existing administrative and census data from about 20,000 children­­, the researchers will compare changes over time between communities that sent their four-year-old children to pre-kindergarten with those that didn’t.

They’ll also interview community based childcare providers and school-based universal pre-kindergarten programs), preschool and kindergarten teachers, and parents about opportunities and challenges that arose between COVID-19 and the universal pre-kindergarten policy change

“It’s an important model for the country as it struggles to rebound from the pandemic,” Sabol said.

Preschool and Discipline

Sabol also digs into the role of race in preschool. Recent work found that teachers tend to complain more about Black preschool students and identify their behavior as problematic compared to white students — even though researchers found no differences when the children were observed in a laboratory setting.

The findings, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, are particularly concerning as the complaints from childcare providers were related to how children fared in elementary school, the researchers said.

“Beyond preschool expulsions, we see disparities in more micro-level, subtle interactions,” Sabol said. “And we see that school discipline is not always related to student behavior, based on neutral observers.”

The study, “A Window into Racial and Class Disparities in Preschool Disciplinary Action Using Developmental Methodology,” is one of the first to focus on young children’s earliest school environments­–most research looks at the K-12 setting– and builds on past work demonstrating racial disparities in preschool expulsions.

Sabol, along with Northwestern’s Onnie Rogers and Sandy Waxman, received a Venture Research Fund grant from the School of Education and Social Policy to develop a web-based platform. The support will help them measure, understand and ultimately reduce the race-based disparities they are finding in preschool classrooms.

“We need to be able to examine the dynamic interactions, as well as the subtle and explicit biases that exist in classrooms between teachers and preschool-aged children,” Sabol said. “By illuminating patterns of bias and interactions in class preschool classrooms, we can provide comprehensive view of classroom discipline for both teachers and educators.

Inside the Development, Early Education, and Policy (DEEP) lab, Sabol’s team is also developing new resources. The Childhood Assessment Tool - Electronic (CHAT-E) is an interactive tablet-based app designed to study young children’s perceptions. Developed by Sabol and alumna Andrea Kinghorn Busby (PhD21), the CHAT-E draws inspiration from the Berkeley Puppet Interview (BPI), a live puppet technique used to talk to young children about their perceptions of themselves and their worlds around them.

“Too often researchers do not include children’s own voices and interpretations of their experiences in early childhood interventions and policies,” she said. “Ultimately, I want to refine CHAT-E to learn what children think about what we’re designing for them.”

Sabol received her doctorate in applied development science from the University of Virginia and was a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research. She is currently a faculty associate for the Institute for Policy Research.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 8/27/22