Integrating Educational Media in Early Learning Environments to Bridge the Achievement Gap

For years, early educators have debated whether there is a place for media in learning environments for young children. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center recently completed the adoption and release of a joint position statement on technology and interactive media as early childhood educational tools, offering guidelines for the appropriate use of technology and media to support learning for young children. This new statement confirms what the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS have been contending for years: educational media can be integrated into early learning environments in a way that is both appropriate and beneficial.

With so many new technologies available to today's kids, the position statement offers key guidelines on how we can leverage these new innovations to help kids learn -- which we believe can have real impact in closing the achievement gap. This could not come at a more critical time, as two-thirds of America's children are not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, and more than 60 percent of all fourth graders are not proficient in math. These statistics foreshadow the more than 1 million kids who drop out of high school every year, severely limiting their options and costing our nation more than $100 billion in lost wages, taxes and human potential.

As NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center move forward, the good news is that they do not have to go it alone. CPB and PBS continue to be committed to using the power of media to help accelerate early learning, especially for kids from low-income families. Through a forward-looking grant from the U.S. Department of Education called Ready To Learn, CPB and PBS have several projects underway aimed at creating and researching educationally sound and developmentally-appropriate media, and empowering educators, caregivers and parents to be well-informed media mediators for their students and children.

We've already seen amazing results in our work in using multimedia content to support early learning. Third-party research has demonstrated that integrating PBS KIDS content in preschool settings can help kids build key skills for success in school. For example, a recent study found that kids who participated in a PBS KIDS curriculum outscored their peers in the control group on all five tested measures of early literacy.

And as access to new technologies continues to rise, our mission is to build on this success, and to continue to find the learning potential on every new platform. CPB and PBS are working with top kids' media producers, technology experts, educators and researchers to produce suites of content across platforms -- with online games, mobile apps and interactive whiteboard games -- to help children build early math and literacy skills. And we're testing this approach to learn more about how interactive media in early education can help bridge the achievement gap.

Yet as the NAEYC position statement also points out, it is going to take more than developing content for kids to effectively use media in early learning settings; we also need to provide resources for teachers, caregivers and parents to support that learning. All of America's parents and educators must be equipped with equitable access to technology and interactive media experiences -- and the knowledge of how to effectively use them -- to better prepare our children for success in school and life.

This is a challenging assignment that requires all of us who work in this space to turn our attention to capacity-building in the field. This effort should include high-quality teacher professional development, family training, and a push for a national policy movement to equip America's Title I elementary schools and early childcare centers with cutting-edge digital technology tools, so that our children, both in school and out-of-school settings, are not left behind. That's why we're partnering with Boston University to pilot and test teaching modules to help preschool teachers successfully integrate media into their classrooms to enhance students' learning. We are also working with the Chicago Public Schools' Virtual PreK and K programs to develop resources to bridge learning at home and in school.

Since its inception more than 40 years ago, public media has worked with visionaries like Fred Rogers to use the power of television to help kids learn. Over the last 20 years, public media has demonstrated that same potential with award-winning digital content online, on mobile, and beyond. We've seen through research that educational programming across platforms can have real impact in narrowing the achievement gap.

As we continue to look forward and innovate in the children's media space, we believe that NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center have produced a core policy statement that is relevant to the entire field of early childhood education in the 21st century, and will help guide the effective use of technology and media to improve academic outcomes. Let's embrace technology for our youngest citizens in a way that will help them learn and grow, using this new statement as a guide as we craft strategies and tools to help narrow the achievement gap and better prepare all of our children for success.