Tulane’s Dr. Barbarin to Work on White House Educational Initiative

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Dr. Oscar Barbarin, Psychology Professor and Endowed Chair at Tulane, attended the Advisory Commission on Early Childhood Education as an invited participant on October 20. The Commission is part of the White House Initiative on African American Educational Excellence established by President Obama in a 2012 Executive Order.

The Commission’s goal is to better understand the current status of African-American students and the schools that support them. Members meeting in October discussed the approaches and proven programs that could be of benefit for youngsters and served as an introductory meeting for key experts in the field.

“We were trying to understand the quality of early childhood education and the most important components,” Dr. Barbarin told the Times. Barbarin’s research aims to shed light on the origins of what underlies a disproportionately high rate of poor school adjustment for AfricanAmerican and Latino children, a group he calls “boys of color” or “BOC.”

“Cooperation with peers and social competence are present when the boys enter Pre-K, but when they reach five, after kindergarten, we see a downward trend,” he explained. Barbarin and his team at Tulane are helping to discover the underlying psychology of these and other issues that could improve youngster’s social and educational outcomes.

In one of his longitudinal studies Barbarin found evidence that calls into question the common assumption that boys begin school already dealing with socioemotional issues that hamper their educational success. Instead, Barbarin found evidence that the development of BOC occurs along the same lines as White boys. So, the difficulties these boys experience in adolescence are not evident in Pre-kindergarten.

Barbarin suggests that a more likely explanation for these results and the higher risk for later problems in BOC could be that there is a poor fit in the kindergarten and following grades, between current educational methods and the children’s developmental sensitivities. He concluded that the downward trend in ratings of socio-emotional competence in boys of color was likely related to the educational design and didactic approaches common in kindergarten.

“The programs may not be varied enough,” Barbarin explained. “We need developmentally sensitive practices that take these factors into account,” he said to the Times.

Dr. Barbarin and his work were prominent in the 2013 special issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry focusing on the development of African-American and Latino youngsters. Barbarin wrote the introduction to the special issue, titled “Development of Boys of Color.” He also provided several articles including, “Development of Social-Emotional Competence in Boys of Color: A Cross-Sectional Cohort Analysis from Pre-K to Second Grade,” and “A Longitudinal Examination of Socioemotional Learning in African American and Latino Boys Across the Transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten.”

Dr. Barbarin is one of the national experts looking at the socioemotional development of boys of color and the characteristics related to these youngsters’ overall development. Last month he was one of the experts featured in the lead article for Monitor, the national magazine published by the American Psychological Association.

The headline feature was “Building resilience in black boys.” Barbarin commented to Monitor about his work with BOC. “Part of the puzzle is trying to figure out what happens along the way that creates such disparate outcomes for them,” remarking on the greater risk for African-American boys to exhibit problems in school and social-emotional areas.

In the Monitor report Dr. Barbarin said that one issue is that youngsters may come from homes without the same support for school and school preparation. This can cause some to be behind in language skills and if the children do poorly in their beginning entry to education, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, he indicated to the Monitor. He also explained that teaching styles, what he termed “warm demanding” may help teachers when the teacher is struggling with ways to be more constructive with children that are challenging.

Dr. Barbarin is the co-editor of the Handbook of Child Development & Early Education, a 2009 text coauthored with Dr. Barbara H. Wasik. In the Handbook Barbarin points out that early childhood education and developmental science have developed along parallel, rather than perfectly aligned, tracks. He writes that there is need for the two disciplines, education and developmental science, to work more closely to produce innovations to benefit children and BOC.

Also included in the 2013 special issue of the Journal of Orthopsychiatry was “Socioemotional Trajectories in Black Boys Between Kindergarten and the Fifth Grade: The Role of Cognitive Skills and Family in Promoting Resiliency,” authored by Tulane’s Jeffrey Brown, Oscar Barbarin and Kristin Scott.

Kristin Scott, Dr.Barbarin, and Jeffery Brown also authored, “From Higher Order Thinking to Higher Order Behavior: Exploring the Relationship Between Early Cognitive Skills and Social Competence in Black Boys.”

Included in special issue was Tulane professor Dr. Michael Cunningham’s “School- and Community-Based Associations to Hypermasculine Attitudes in African American Adolescent Males,” coauthored with Dena Phillips Swanson and DeMarquis Hayes.

Dr. Barbarin coauthored “Development of SocialEmotional Competence in Boys of Color: A Cross-Sectional Cohort Analysis from Pre-K to Second Grade,” with Iheoma Iruka, Christine Harradine, Donna-Marie Winn, Marvin McKinney and Lorraine Taylor.

Barbarin and Ester Jean-Baptiste authored, “The Relation of Dialogic, Control, and Racial Socialization Practices to Early Academic and Social Competence: Effects of Gender, Ethnicity, and Family Socioeconomic Status.”

The President’s Commission on Early Childhood Education is chaired by Executive Director for the White House Initiative on African American (AA) Educational Excellence, David Johns. The group will work to identify and review research and programs and will be helpful in understanding the current status of African American students and the schools systems that serve them, and develop policies and practices that benefit students’ development and achievements. The White House Initiative on AA Education Excellence is to help AA students receive the education that prepares them for educational success, college completion, and productive careers. According to a previous White House announcement, one specific objective is to increase the percentage of African American children who enter kindergarten ready for success and improve access to highquality learning and development programs.

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