Major Harvard Gift Spurs Early Childhood Education Study

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has announced that it will be using a $35 million gift to launch a new early childhood program that will conduct one of the largest studies performed in decades on pre-K education.

“It’s one of the most significant investments in early childhood education,” said the graduate school’s dean, James Ryan. “I think it will give us the capacity to tackle some of the most important issues and challenges in early childhood education, which are basically about how you create high quality pre-K for all kids.”

The gift, the largest single donation ever received by the school, was given by the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation.  The foundation, launched in 1997, was named for Saul Zaentz, who was the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Born into poverty, Zaentz grew up to become one of the largest independent music and film producers in the country, creating Fantasy Records before going on to become a movie producer, writes Steven A. Rosenberg for The Boston Globe.

Before his death in 2014, Zaentz represented groups like Creedence Clearwater Revival and won three Academy Awards for Best Picture for his work producing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The English Patient,’’ and “Amadeus.’’

“We hope that this will create a center at Harvard that can become the go-to place for people coming together to talk about all of the issues, including quality early childhood education, and will act as a catalyst to spur federal funding for a national program of quality early childhood education,” said Elliot Steinberg, a director of the foundation.

According to Harvard president Drew Faust, the new program is expected to become a nationally-recognized initiative.  It is expected to support faculty and students who share concerns of improving outcomes for young children, in addition to becoming an important source not only at the university but across the country for scholarship, partnership, and professional learning.  Through partnerships with organizations in the field as well as internal collaborators such as the Center for the Developing Child, it is the hope that the initiative will be able to improve and expand on early childhood education to offer all children the opportunity to grow and thrive.

A portion of the gift will be used for the creation of the Harvard Early Learning Study.  The five-year study will follow a group of three-year-olds who show “the linguistic, socioeconomic and racial diversity of today’s population.”  The study will focus on the key questions facing policymakers today, including those concerning scale, the long-term impacts of early education, and what is needed for a successful model.

In addition, the School of Education will establish the Saul Zaentz Academy for Professional Learning in Early Childhood.  The academy will offer both traditional and online courses, institutes, and certificate programs for early childhood educators, leaders, and policy makers.

Eight new master’s fellowships will also beintroduced, as well as a fellowship in the PhD program.

A separate portion of the gift is expected to be put toward the funding of two new endowed chairs at the School of Education.