The Incubator Begins

The inaugural year of the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator is officially underway, with the TMW Center playing a critical leadership role. The year-long initiative, which is focused on expanding early childhood research with an emphasis on the science of scaling evidence-based interventions, is hosting a variety of events and producing a series of publications throughout the year.

One of the Incubator’s most exciting and ambitious projects is the development of an edited volume called “The Scale-up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why interventions lose impact at scale and what we can do about it.” The volume brings together the latest and best research to address the fact that the great promise of evidence-based early childhood interventions has yet to be realized; that we have yet to achieve population-level change for children living in poverty.

Later this month, the TMW Center and the Griffin Applied Economics Incubator will host a two-day closed workshop for authors who are contributing to the project. Authors will present their chapters, receive feedback from one another, and work together to develop recommendations for the field. With a group of authors and attendees that includes accomplished economists, psychologists, physicians, field researchers, and early childhood practitioners, the workshop is certain to be lively, enlightening, and an important part of the book’s development. The result will be a volume that advances the efforts of those who are working to improve outcomes for millions of children across the world.

Spanish Home Visiting Wrap Up

Earlier this fall, we completed the pilot study of the Spanish language adaptation of TMW-Home Visiting (TMP). Ninety-five families participated in the 12-month effort, which included 12 bi-weekly meetings between the parent and home visitor.  The children ranged in age from two- to two-and-a-half-years-old at the outset, and we followed the families to six months post-intervention.

The TMP team has already put the wheels of our of feedback-driven-innovation-cycle in motion by hosting a focus group of participating parents. The goal of this meeting was to hear first-hand what TMP parents thought of the experience, with an eye toward improving the existing curriculum. The comments were overwhelmingly positive, with parents demonstrating a clear understanding of their role fostering their children’s early brain development, as well as mastery of the 3Cs: Conectarse, Conversar, y Compartir Turnos.

Said one TMP graduate of her experience, “Now I’m always looking for ways to interact and play more with my child. I find that we have a closer connection because of the program.” Said another, “I really see the difference in my child.  He’s more social, confident, and independent.”

We look forward to sharing findings from the pilot in the coming months.

TMW-Home Visiting: A Sneak Peek at New Findings

We’ve reached another milestone in data collection for our TMW-Home Visiting longitudinal study. The analysis of this new timepoint provides an exciting first snapshot of child language development at 2.5 to 3 years of age.

Results continue to show that TMW parents provided more enriched home language environments for their toddlers after the intervention than the Control parents. Taken a step further, by observing parent-child interactions at home during free play and book sharing, we were able to demonstrate an increase in back and forth conversational interactions.












This finding is meaningful because it mirrors a growing body of research that points to the importance of conversational turn-taking in building children’s language and cognitive skills.

In the News

TMW Center co-directors, Dr. Dana Suskind and Professor John List, have been in the news talking about the need for more evidence-based policy in large scale intervention implementations.

In a recent conversation with Forbes, Suskind and List talked about the TMW Center’s public health approach to early learning. The duo shared insights on the obstacles facing effective scaling, and how the TMW Center’s first community-wide demonstration project aims to overcome such challenges of scale.

In The Atlantic, List and fellow University of Chicago economist, Eszther Czibor discussed how policy makers and researchers can work together to deliver better population-level outcomes. The economists argued that many policies draw from underdeveloped research due, in part, to the quick turnaround nature of political cycles. Their antidote to this? Fostering a political environment that encourages evaluation and continuous learning, in which rigorous experiments can focus on scalability and generalizability.

Through these conversations, as well as others with leaders in this field, it is clear that continuous feedback loops are essential for researchers to better understand what aspects of interventions work and which ones do not. We hope to keep the conversation going and to do our part to support evidence-based policy.

Translating Research into Real-World Practice in Early Childhood

The TMW Center is honored to be organizing and hosting the inaugural year of the Kenneth C. Griffin Applied Economics Incubator, during the 2019-2020 academic year. In partnership with UChicago’s Department of Economics, year one of the Incubator will focus on early childhood research and the science of scaling evidence-based interventions within the field. TMW Center co-director John List shares some early details in the following Q&A:

What was the genesis of the Incubator and what will it entail?

The idea behind the Applied Economics Incubator is to elevate the status of the University of Chicago as a hub for generating key initiatives that drive broad-based thought and policy changes.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

During year one, if we can link research from different disciplines and connect thought leaders from economics, psychology, sociology, medicine and public policy to stimulate new ideas that develop innovative approaches in early childhood and the science of scaling, then we will have met our goal.

Why make the focus of the inaugural Incubator early childhood? 

Much of the research being done in economics right now centers on these early inputs and how they affect a child’s outcomes later in life. I have several colleagues here in the Department of Economics, and departments throughout UChicago who have been focusing their research agenda on how to improve educational outcomes for children, particularly from low socio-economic situations. I was confident that by choosing early childhood, I would have their support and willingness to collaborate during this first year.

What fields can we expect to see represented in the Incubator and how did you arrive at the decision to nominate the TMW Center to spearhead its debut?

The TMW Center was a natural choice because of the overlap it has to evidence-based economics. The TMW Center is impressive because we use evidence-based interventions and tools to collect data in order to continuously improve interventions.  We are committed to bringing these interventions to larger communities and have worked hard on researching the science of scaling—a very interesting and confounding issue in the world of economics right now.

What does the Incubator mean for the TMW Center?

The aim is to make the University of Chicago a hub for early childhood learning, with the TMW Center at the core. The hope is that the TMW Center becomes synonymous with early childhood research and development.

Can you share a tease about who or what we can look forward to seeing as a part of this?

We are working on a large publication that will target academics as well as those in the world of public policy. This book will look at the science of scaling, as seen through the lens of early childhood. There will be conferences, visitors, and a special issue of the Journal of Political Economy that will focus on the economics of early childhood. We plan to have academic visitors from across the U.S., as well as a few from Europe, who will immerse themselves for a short period of time here on campus, in order allow for the sharing of ideas through research collaborations, lectures, and mentorship. 

Community-Wide Demonstration Project Now Underway

Our community-wide demonstration project, in partnership with Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County (CSC), is moving forward. Since announcing the project back in October 2018, we’ve been working alongside CSC to develop relationships across the community at birthing centers, pediatric clinics, and other local organizations. Later this month, we’ll launch our first intervention, TMW-Newborn, with English- and Spanish-speaking families at St. Mary’s Hospital in Palm Beach.

One of the primary goals of this project is to understand what it takes to scale interventions and we recognize that technology will be at the core of this work. To this end, we have been investing in the development of a tech platform that will support the delivery and data collection of not only the community-wide demonstration project, but future TMW Center work. We are collaborating with Daylight, a human-centered design firm, and Blackbird, a digital product studio, both based on the west coast, to guide these efforts.

With an eye on 2020, we’ve already begun early preparation for TMW-Well Baby implementation in Palm Beach County, followed by TMW-Let’s Talk. As always, we’ll continue to update with our progress.

Building an Early Learning Culture in Pediatric Settings

As we continue to establish the role of the TMW Center in the early learning space, the healthcare field remains an important area for us to focus our efforts. In addition to TMW-Newborn and TMW-Well Baby, programs that map onto existing systems in birthing hospitals and pediatric clinics, we’re developing TMW-Pediatrics. The latter has evolved in recent months to include 2 components:  1) continuing medical education (CME) for providers and 2) an adaptation of this information for clinic stakeholders (support personnel such as nurses, front desk staff, medical assistants, lab technicians, etc.).

Our short-term goal is to further test and refine the Stakeholders’ arm for maximum uptake.   Since December 2018, the TMW-Pediatrics-Stakeholder team, spearheaded by University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine student Cori Walker and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools student Asher Liu, has presented the program at 5 federally qualified health centers, reaching approximately 60 participants.  Overall, the feedback has been promising and the program well-received.

Our long-term goal is to make TMW-Pediatrics available anywhere TMW-Well Baby is implemented so that all staff in the pediatric clinic setting will be able to share critical knowledge about foundational brain development, early language environments, and of course, the 3Ts, with the families they serve.

Thoughts on an Ideal Early Learning System

Just as the TMW Center looks to parents and caregivers to Spread the Words about the important role their talk and interaction play in building children’s brains, we’ve recently turned our attention to early childhood stakeholders in an effort to elevate the conversation on a different level. A number of people – researchers, pediatricians, non-profit professionals, funders – generously agreed to be interviewed for the project.We’ll be sharing this content in the coming months. Here’s a sample of what’s to come:

New Online Parent and Caregiver Resource

The TMW Center website has a valuable new resource for those looking for ways to enrich children’s early learning environments. We’ve recently launched our TMW Parent and Caregiver portal, chock full of information and tips designed to maximize the impact of adult interactions on foundational brain development. With the 3Ts at its core, this latest addition to our site shares the science in an easy-to-digest manner, uses video to show TMW strategies in action, and offers downloadable materials for parents and practitioners. Special attention is paid to ways we can incorporate more talk and interaction into everyday activities.

Our hope with this new undertaking is that we’ll expand our reach and encourage visitors to turn their newfound knowledge into action to benefit the young children in their lives. Similarly, we hope they’ll be inspired to help us Spread the Words about the critical role caregiver talk and interaction play in building children’s brains and shaping their futures in their communities and beyond.

Exciting Updates from the TMW Center – Newsletter Issue 02

Dear Friends,

It was a busy summer at the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health. While others may have slowed down for vacations and the like, we were ramping up efforts, and are eager to share some exciting news.

Most notably, we’re beginning to work with our newly selected community partner to lay the foundation for our community-wide roll out. Taking our efforts to scale means there is a lot to do and much to learn in the coming months.  With the North Star of optimizing foundational brain development using science that combines theory and data, this partnership will both inform and be informed by our work around the science of scaling.  We’re thrilled to reveal the chosen community in this newsletter and look forward to sharing our progress in the coming months.

We’re also planning our first convening: Leveraging the Healthcare System to Impact Educational Disparities, the inaugural Rohit and Harvanit Kumar Conference on the Economics of Early Childhood Education. By gathering thought-leaders from across disciplines, our aim is to elevate the role of the healthcare sector in intervening early and having a lasting impact on a child’s future health and well-being. For more details and to register, please click here.  We hope to see you all at the University of Chicago for this event.

These accomplishments, along with many other ongoing projects at the TMW Center, would not have been possible without our amazing research team. In addition to our staff, this summer we saw an influx of 32 undergraduate and graduate students from across the country who brought a wonderful energy to our lab. They used their talents on 13 projects ranging from formatively testing our new TMW-Pediatrics curriculum, to advancing work on our upcoming community-wide demonstration project, and developing our tech platform. Their contributions were immense and we would be remiss not to thank them.

As always, thanks to you, too, for your continued interest and support of our work.  Let’s change the world!

Warmest regards,

Dana and John