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

Community-Wide Roll Out: New Partnership Announced

After a thoughtful and productive RFP process, the TMW Center is pleased to announce the selection of Palm Beach County, Florida as our partner site for our first community-wide roll out. Over the course of the next 12 months, we’ll work closely with Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County (The Council), to strategize how to embed TMW’s integrated suite of evidence-based interventions within already existing health, education and social service systems. Program implementation, starting in birthing hospitals, followed by pediatric clinics, and community-based organizations, is slated to begin fall 2019. Our five-year goal is to reach at least 60 percent of children birth to age three and their families living in the community.

We received a number of impressive proposals from diverse communities across the nation all doing amazing work. To guide the selection process, TMW Center leadership used clearly defined criteria, including a capacity to work across existing systems, a commitment to long-term progress, clear community stakeholder engagement, and sustainable funding streams. A history of impact and an expressed desire to partner were also essential.

Palm Beach County beautifully fit all of these criteria. In addition to the size and make-up of its population, Children’s Services Council stood out for its longstanding commitment to partnering with families, agencies, and tax payers to provide and support high-quality services and vital infrastructure for its youngest children. We were compelled by its historical and sustained commitment to providing data, staffing, and training infrastructure to its community partners.  Finally, the Council’s data-driven approach, specifically its efforts to support, evaluate, and innovate service delivery is a model for the field, and is well-aligned with TMW Center’s feedback-driven innovation cycle.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Palm Beach County and the Council,” says TMW Center Co-director Dana Suskind, MD.  “We share a belief in the important role parents play in their children’s foundational brain development.  That belief – and a commitment to partnering with others and using science to learn what works and what doesn’t – will guide our joint efforts in the coming years.”

As passionate scientists, we are committed to using science and data to guide us in this process.  We understand the importance of scaling interventions that are both feasible in the real world and reflective of the needs and desires of the community.

“Our community-wide demonstration project is an interesting mix of use and learn,” says John List, TMW Center Co-director.  “On the one hand, we will use frontier science to provide programs at scale in Palm Beach County.  On the other hand, we will learn from the project by gaining greater insights into the threats of scalability through our community wide roll out. A true win-win for the science of using science.”

At the end of five years, we expect to have developed a community model that demonstrates that it is possible to achieve population-level change in parent and caregiver behavior to optimize children’s early brain development, and what it takes to accomplish this. This project will be a foundation for learning that will inform future partnerships as we continue to expand the reach of our programs.

The Healthcare Sector’s Role in Priming Parents

On November 30th, thought-leaders from across the country will join us in Saieh Hall for the Rohit and Harvanit Kumar Conference on the Economics of Early Childhood, Leveraging the Healthcare System to Impact Educational Disparities.  The focus of this convening, the TMW Center’s first, is to elevate the role of the healthcare sector, highlight its current approaches, and harness its capacity to impact a child’s future health and well-being.

Our decision to focus on the healthcare sector was driven by our belief that it is both uniquely positioned to disseminate evidenced-based strategies directly to parents, and vastly underutilized in its practice of doing so.

A dynamic roster of speakers from multiple disciplines will discuss ways the healthcare sector can foster parental knowledge of foundational brain development, look at current programs having impact, and examine the role of the science of scaling to replicate and scale evidence-based programs.

All are welcome to attend. Space is limited. Register here.

A Prescription for Talk and Interaction

At the TMW Center, we believe that parents are the primary drivers of their children’s foundational brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also acknowledges the impact of parent talk and interaction on children’s developing brains, as evidenced by their Agenda for Children, a statement that encourages pediatricians to support parents so that they may provide a “rich and responsive language environment” for their children.

Our recently published op-ed in the journal Pediatrics, however, asserts that pediatricians do not always engage parents in conversations regarding language and brain development. Talk, Read, Sing: Early Language Exposure as an Overlooked Social Determinant of Health, written by Pritzker Medical School students Danielle LoRe and Peter Ladner, along with Dana Suskind, MD, makes the case that pediatricians can and should buck this trend and, in doing so, help prevent disparities in brain development and school readiness.

The piece was inspired by LoRe’s experience on her pediatric rotation. She observed how her Resident thoroughly covered the first nine items on the postpartum discharge list with parents – but noticeably skipped the last point, “Talk, read, and sing to your baby.” “I wondered if her omission came with an implicit prioritization,” LoRe writes. “Not talking, reading, or singing to a newborn is, admittedly, less life-threatening than most recommendations on the newborn discharge list.” LoRe, however, soon learned just how vital these activities are to the healthy development of very young children.

Fast-forward several months to Suskind’s office where LoRe is now in the middle of a research year at TMW. She recounts this story during a meeting to discuss plans for a new Continuing Medical Education (CME) program for pediatricians and a lightbulb goes off in Suskind’s head.

“As pediatricians, we all know the critical importance of this issue, but the demands of each pediatric visit are such that it often gets overlooked,” says Suskind. “Danielle’s powerful story was a reminder of the need to catalyze the next generation of medical students and pediatric residents.”

To that end, the op-ed advances two key ideas: 1) rich early language environments are a critical and malleable social determinant of health and 2) pediatricians and the healthcare sector play a pivotal role in helping families understand the science and strategies that foster foundational brain development.

According to the authors, “By elevating the importance of foundational brain development as a public health issue that impacts all children, pediatric trainees can help shape parent investment.”

Click here to read the full feature.