National Early Education Council

Stephanie Curenton

Stephanie M. Curenton, PhD / Tenured Associate Professor at BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development; Director of the Center for the Ecology of Early Childhood Development

Stephanie M. Curenton, PhD, is a tenured associate professor at BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and the director of the Center for the Ecology of Early Childhood Development (CEED). She studies the social, cognitive, and language development of low-income or racially marginalized children within their various ecological contexts, such as parent-child interactions, early childhood education programs, early childhood workforce programs, and related state and federal policies.
Walter S. Gilliam, PhD

Walter S. Gilliam, PhD / Executive Director, Buffett Early Childhood Institute

Walter S. Gilliam began serving as the executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute in 2023. Gilliam, who who holds the Richard D. Holland Presidential Chair in Early Childhood Development, also holds a primary academic appointment at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center at a rank of tenured professor. Previously, Gilliam came to the Institute from Yale University, where he was Elizabeth Mears & House Jameson Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale Child Study Center and director of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. He is vice president of ZERO TO THREE, a past president of Child Care Aware of America; board treasurer for the Irving Harris Foundation, and a board director for First Children’s Finance, and All Our Kin; and a former senior advisor to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Gilliam is co-recipient of the prestigious 2008 Grawemeyer Award in Education for the coauthored book, A Vision for Universal Preschool Education. His research involves early childhood education and intervention policy analysis (specifically how policies translate into effective services), ways to improve the quality of prekindergarten and child care services, the impact of early childhood education programs on children’s school readiness, and effective methods for reducing classroom behavior problems and preschool expulsion, as well as issues of COVID-19 transmission, vaccination, and health and safety promotion in early childhood settings. His scholarly writing addresses early childhood care and education programs, school readiness, and developmental assessment of young children. Gilliam has led national analyses of state-funded PreKindergarten policies and mandates, how PreKindergarten programs are being implemented across the range of policy contexts, and the effectiveness of these programs at improving school readiness and educational achievement, as well as experimental and quasi-experimental studies on methods to improve early education quality. His work frequently has been covered in major national and international news outlets for print (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, LA Times), radio (e.g., NPR), and television (e.g., CNN Headline News, NBC TODAY Show, CBS Early Show, ABC Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, FOX News). Gilliam has actively provided consultation to state and federal decision-makers in the United States and other countries (such as the People’s Republic of China and the United Arab Emirates) and frequently provides testimony and briefings before Congress on issues related to early care and education.
Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D

Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD / Research Professor, Department of Public Policy Fellow, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) Founding Director, Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG (the Coalition) The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D., is a Research Professor in the Department of Public Policy, a Fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG), and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Iruka is leading projects and initiatives focused on ensuring that minoritized children and children from low-income households, especially Black children, are thriving through the intersection of anti-bias, anti-racist, culturally grounded research, program, and policy. Dr. Iruka serves on numerous national and local boards and committees, such as National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and National Advisory Committee for the U.S. Census Bureau. She is the recipient of the 2022 American Psychological Association Mid-Career Award for Outstanding Contributions to Benefit Children, Youth, and Families. Iheoma Iruka is pronounced EE-OMAH EE-ROO-KAH
Sherry M. Cleary

Sherry M. Cleary / University Dean of Early Childhood Initiatives at the City University of New York & Executive Director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute

Sherry M. Cleary is the University Dean of Early Childhood Initiatives at the City University of New York and the Executive Director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute. She leads the work of a dynamic, intelligent, and passionate team dedicated to building essential systems to insure a highly effective early childhood workforce for the state of New York, to guarantee that young children have access to excellence. Her work also focuses on how colleges and universities can build more effective early childhood programs as well as campus children’s programs. She oversees the NYC Early Childhood Research Network, CUNY’s 16 campus child care centers, the state’s early childhood workforce system known as New York Works For Children, the state’s quality rating and improvement system - QUALITYstarsNY, and a wide range of other initiatives. Sherry co-chairs the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council. Ms. Cleary has worked in the field of early childhood education as a classroom teacher, a program administrator, and as both a faculty member and higher education administrator at Erie Community College, the University of Pittsburgh and now, CUNY. She has extensive experience in inner cities and rural communities. Sherry has served on several Boards of Directors and College Advisory Boards as well as presided over national and regional membership organizations.
Shirley Sagawa

Shirley Sagawa / AmeriCorps Board of Directors

Shirley Sagawa was nominated to the AmeriCorps Board of Directors by President Biden in January 2022 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August 2022. Sagawa is former a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of three books, including “The American Way to Change” and “The Charismatic Organization.” Sagawa is the former CEO of Service Year Alliance and an architect of national service. Over the last three decades, she has developed innovative social and education policy, authored reports, and advised national organizations and foundations on strategy. As a partner with Sagawa/Jospin, she played strategic roles in creating America Forward, Cities of Service, Service Year Exchange, and the Presidio Institute Fellows Program. Sagawa served as First Lady Hillary Clinton’s policy assistant, deputy chief of staff, and led the launch of the Corporation for National and Community Service, now AmeriCorps, for President Bill Clinton. Sagawa also served as President George H. W. Bush’s first vice chair of the Commission on National and Community Service, authorized under the National and Community Service Act of 1990. During which time, she drafted and negotiated as a chief counsel for Youth Policy on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. Sagawa earned her BA at the Smith College, JD from Harvard Law School, and MSc from the London School of Economics.
Arthur J. Rolnick, PhD

Arthur J. Rolnick, PhD / Senior Fellow and Co-Director, Human Capital Research Collaborative; Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Arthur J. Rolnick is a Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the University of Minnesota. Rolnick is working to advance multidisciplinary research on child development and social policy. He previously served at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis as a senior vice president and director of research and as an associate economist with the Federal Open Market Committee—the monetary policymaking body for the Federal Reserve System. Rolnick’s essays on public policy issues have gained national attention; his research interests include banking and financial economics, monetary policy, monetary history, the economics of federalism, and the economics of education. His work on early childhood development has garnered numerous awards, including those from the George Lucas Educational Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Health, both in 2007; he was also named 2005 Minnesotan of the Year by Minnesota Monthly magazine. Rolnick has been a visiting professor of economics at Boston College, the University of Chicago, and Lingnan College, Guangzhou, China. He is past president of the Minnesota Economic Association. He has served on several nonprofit boards including the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Harvard University; the Northside Achievement Zone, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation; Greater Twin Cities United Way; and Ready 4 K, a Minnesotan advocacy organization for early childhood development. A native of Michigan, Rolnick has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in economics from Wayne State University, Detroit; and a doctorate in economics from the University of Minnesota.
Robert C. Pianta, PhD

Robert C. Pianta, PhD / Dean, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Robert Pianta, PhD, is Dean of the Curry School of Education, Novartis US Foundation Professor of Education, Professor of Psychology, and founding director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. Dr. Pianta's research and policy interests focus on the intersection of education and human development. In particular his work has been influential in advancing the conceptualization of teacher-student interactions and relationships, and documenting their contributions to students’ learning and development. He has authored or co-authored more than 300 articles, 50 chapters, and 10 books and led research and training grants totaling over $60 million. He is a former editor of the Journal of School Psychology and associate editor for AERA Open. Dr. Pianta has led research and development on measurement and improvement tools that help teachers interact with students more effectively and that are used widely in the United States and around the world. Dr. Pianta received a BS and an MA in Special Education from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. He began his career as a special education teacher and joined the University of Virginia faculty in 1986. An internationally recognized expert in both early childhood education and K-12 teaching and learning, Dr. Pianta regularly consults with federal agencies, foundations, universities, and governments. He was named a Fellow of the American Education Research Association and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota in 2016.
Mariela M. Páez, EdD

Mariela M. Páez, EdD / Associate Professor, The Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch School of Education, Boston College

Dr. Mariela Paez is Associate Professor of Early Childhood. She has a doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Her primary research interests are early childhood education and language development for bilingual students. She has training in quantitative and qualitative methodologies, child development, psychology, and linguistics. Dr. Páez has taught courses in second language and literacy learning, child development, and methods of early childhood teaching. In addition, she has carried out professional development related to the education of ELLs with early childhood principals and teachers including Head Start programs. From 2000 to 2005, she was the co-investigator of the Early Childhood Study of Language and Literacy Development of Spanish-speaking Children which investigated the factors that influence the course of English and Spanish literacy development for young Spanish-speaking children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. This longitudinal study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Office for Educational Research and Improvement, Department of Education. She is currently Principal Investigator for the Early Childhood Intervention Study: Improving the Language and Literacy Skills of Spanish-English Bilingual Kindergartners, which is another NICHD funded longitudinal intervention study designed to improve the language and literacy development of young bilingual students. In addition, Dr. Páez is Co-Principal Investigator for the project Teaching Academic Language in the Content Areas: Enhancing Achievement for English Language Learners, funded by the US Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students. This is a national professional development grant used to better prepare and support teachers in providing effective instruction to Limited English Proficient students. She is author of numerous articles and has published in leading journals including Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, American Educational Research Journal, Topics in Language Disorders, and Equity & Excellence in Education. She is also co-editor of Latinos: Remaking America (with Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, 2002, 2008). Dr. Páez was invited to be a member of the National English Language Learners Literacy Research Committee (2007) and the Roundtable on Supporting Positive Language and Literacy Outcomes for Young Language Minority Children (2008). She is also a member of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, Society for Research in Child Development, and the American Educational Research Association.
Christopher J. Lonigan, PhD

Christopher J. Lonigan, PhD / Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Psychology, Florida State University; Associate Director, Florida Center for Reading Research

Christopher J. Lonigan is a Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and an associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. Dr. Lonigan received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1991 from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Lonigan was awarded a two-year NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the John F. Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University. His research interests include the development, assessment, and promotion of preschool early literacy skills and self-regulation. His current research projects include early identification of reading disability, effectiveness of Response to Instruction models in preschool, assessments for Spanish-speaking English learners, preschool curriculum evaluation, the development of reading comprehension, and the interaction between the development of self-regulation and academic skills.
Sharon Lynn Kagan, EdD

Sharon Lynn Kagan, EdD / Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood Education and Family Policy; Co-Director, National Center for Children & Families, Teachers College, Columbia University

Sharon Lynn Kagan is the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy and Co-Director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University and Professor Adjunct at Yale University's Child Study Center. Author of 250 articles and 14 books, Professor Kagan is noted for her seminal research on the institutions that impact the quality, equity, and sustainability of services impacting young children and their families. Using research and working in conjunction with UNICEF, the World Bank, UNESCO, and the IADB, Kagan has helped shape early childhood policies in over 70 countries globally. Acknowledged for these research and policy contributions, Kagan is a Fulbright Scholar and an elected Fellow of both the National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). She is the only woman in the history of American education to receive its three most prestigious awards: the 2004 Distinguished Service Award from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the 2005 James Bryant Conant Award for Lifetime Service to Education from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), and the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD / Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow, Department of Psychology, Temple University

Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University where she serves as Director of the Infant Language Laboratory. She is the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society, the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science, and the Association for Psychological Science James McKeen Cattell Award for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to applied psychological research. Kathy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research in the areas of early language development and infant cognition has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Human Development, and the Institute of Education Sciences resulting in 11 books and over 200 publications. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society and served as the Associate Editor of Child Development. She is also the co-founder of An Ethical Start, a curricular program in moral development for children ages 3 through 5. This program, created for the Jewish Community Centers of North America was funded by Stephen Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.
Roberta Golinkoff, PhD

Roberta Golinkoff, PhD / H. Rodney Sharp Professor, School of Education, University of Delaware

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education, Psychology, and Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of Delaware, has won numerous awards for her work including becoming the 2015 recipient of the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award for lifetime contributions to applied psychological science. She also won the Francis Alison Award, the highest honor awarded at her University. She is considered one of the country’s premier developmental scientists and routinely travels worldwide to speak to academic as well as lay groups. Her research is supported by federal grants and she has trained numerous scientists. Having written over 150 articles and 12 books, she is an expert on language development, playful learning, and early spatial knowledge. Three of her books are directed to parents and practitioners and have won prestigious awards. Passionate about dissemination, she co-founded the Ultimate Block Party movement to celebrate the science of learning.
Linda M. Espinosa, PhD

Linda M. Espinosa, PhD / Author and Consultant; Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri-Columbia

Dr. Linda M. Espinosa, is Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri, Columbia and has served as the Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University and Vice President at Bright Horizons Family Solutions as well as an ECE program director in California in San Francisco Unified District, San Jose Unified School District, and Redwood School District. She was most recently Co-PI for the Getting on Track for Early School Success: Effective Teaching in Preschool Classrooms project at the University of Chicago and former Co-PI for the Center for Early Care and Education Research—Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL) at Frank Porter Graham CDI at the U of NC. Her recent research and policy work have focused on effective curriculum and assessment practices for young children from low-income families who are dual language learners. Dr. Espinosa’s latest book, Getting it RIGHT for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds (2015) focused on quality education for DLLs. She was a contributing author of the report from NASEM (2017), Promoting the Educational Success of Children Learning English. Recently, she has co-authored the California Early Learning Foundations, English Language Learners Chapter, the California Preschool Curriculum Frameworks English Language Development Chapter, and the Desired Results Developmental Profile, 2010, English Language Development Assessment Measures. Dr. Espinosa served as the lead consultant for the LAUSD Transitional Kindergarten program development team and is a member of the Council for Professional Development Governing Board and was a Governing Board member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She currently serves a Co-Chair of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine study committee, A New Vision for High Quality Preschool Curriculum.
Molly F. Collins, EdD

Molly F. Collins, EdD / Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University

Molly F. Collins is a faculty member in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. She holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Boston University, a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Kansas University, a master’s degree in early childhood education from Boston University, and a bachelor’s degree in human development from Vanderbilt University. Her research examines language and comprehension development in young children, particularly children from impoverished backgrounds, and factors that impact the quality of teachers’ instruction. She has extensive experience researching preschoolers’ vocabulary acquisition and inferential comprehension during story reading, providing ongoing professional development to educators within and outside the US, and developing and leading intervention studies. She was the principal investigator (PI) for two simultaneous Early Reading First projects; has directed two IES development projects on vocabulary learning from reading and play; was PI for a longitudinal intervention examining preschoolers’ sophisticated vocabulary learning, inferential thinking, and early reading skills; and was the project director for the Vanderbilt/Abu Dhabi model preschool collaboration. A former recipient of ILA’s Outstanding Dissertation Award, she has authored several articles on children’s vocabulary and comprehension in research and practitioner journals, including Reading Research Quarterly, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, and Young Children. She has co-authored a book on young children’s literacy development.  At Vanderbilt, Dr. Collins is leading two projects on preschoolers’ vocabulary and thinking and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in language acquisition, linguistics, and second language learning. She is a member of AERA, ILA, LRA, and SRCD.
Douglas Clements, PhD

Douglas Clements, PhD / Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning & Professor, University of Denver

Douglas Clements is the Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning and a Professor at the University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education. Previously a kindergarten teacher for five years and a preschool teacher for one year, he has since conducted research and published widely in the areas of:
  • The learning and teaching of early mathematics
  • Computer applications in mathematics education
  • Creating, using, and evaluating a research-based curriculum and in taking successful curricula to scale using technologies and learning trajectories
  • Development and evaluation of innovative assessments of mathematics achievement, as well as mathematics teaching
W. Steven Barnett, PhD

W. Steven Barnett, PhD / Board of Governors Professor and Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers University

W. Steven Barnett is a Board of Governors Professor and Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. Dr. Barnett is a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association and a member of the National Academy of Education. He advises national governments, international agencies, and foundations of early care and education policy, research, and evaluation. Dr. Barnett is co-editor of the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy and a member of the Editorial Board of Early Childhood Research Quarterly. He earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan, and his research applies economic analysis to issues of early care and education policy and practice. Dr. Barnett’s research includes studies of the effectiveness and economics of early care and education including the well-known benefit-cost analyses of the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs. He has also studied the impacts of program duration and intensity, dual language models, curriculum, alternative staffing structures, professional development, and parental engagement.
Dale Atkins, PhD

Dale Atkins, PhD / Author and Psychologist

Dale V. Atkins, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who has more than forty years of experience as a relationship expert, focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well, caregiving, managing stress and maintaining harmony in one's life. Dr. Atkins consults and lectures domestically and internationally. She conducts seminars and retreats for executives and employees of major corporations, government agencies, and health and educational institutions in matters related to the fields of psychology, sociology, education, and communication. She is the author of seven books, most recently The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected children (co-authored with Amanda Salzhauer), as well as many articles and journals for popular and professional audiences. For the past 16 years, Dr. Atkins has regularly appeared on NBC-TV's "The Today Show". She is also a frequent contributor in other media. Additionally, she serves on the Boards of several non-profit local and national organizations whose foci are literacy, tolerance, wellness, child protection, and community action. Dr. Atkins has a private psychology practice in New York City.

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