Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education
An expert in early childhood education policy and practice, Kyle DeMeo Cook has years of experience studying early education programs across the country. Cook, a senior research scientist at the Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED) is the project director of the Multnomah County Preschool for All Research & Evaluation Partnership, which investigates the implementation of a universal prekindergarten program in an Oregon county.
We talked to Cook, who joined CEED in 2022, about her work and how it will benefit early childhood education.
BU Wheelock: You have extensive experience doing research on early childhood policy, early education and childcare, and so on. What brought you to BU to do this research?
Cook: CEED is doing really interesting work in early childhood policy with a focus on equity, and that’s what drew me to join CEED and BU. I’m the project director for an exciting project—the Multnomah County Preschool for All Research & Evaluation Partnership—and am working closely with the principal investigator, Stephanie Curenton. We’re working with a county in Oregon that’s starting a new universal free preschool program, called Preschool for All, for all three- and four-year-olds in the county.
BU Wheelock: What are some of your research interests and how do they inform your current work at CEED?
Cook: I’m interested in early childhood education because it has the potential to set children and families up for success in school and in life. We have decades and decades of research about the importance of early learning experiences for children and their families, and the supports they need in the early years. Some of my work goes as far back as infancy and the toddler years, and thinking about supports really young, all the way up to the transition to kindergarten and the early years of elementary school.
I’ve worked with school districts and local communities, as well as states, on PreK research and evaluations. For example, I worked with Somerville Public Schools in Massachusetts to better understand how families make decisions around early education and care in the community. I’ve also done some research with the state of Vermont as they’ve been rolling out their universal preschool program in their state, too. That informs the work that I’m doing in Multnomah County now for CEED.
BU Wheelock: What other experiences have you had that connect to your work today?
Cook: Before I worked in research, I worked in policy advocacy with a focus on grassroots support for early childhood education policies across the state of Massachusetts.
I had thought I’d be a teacher before I realized that working from a systems level was where my interests were. I started as an elementary education major in college and worked as a teaching assistant in an early education program throughout college. I have stayed connected to the classroom level by serving as a volunteer and board member for early education programs.
BU Wheelock: How does your work advance equity and inclusion, including racial justice and socioeconomic justice?
Cook: A lot of my research has been thinking broadly about access to preschool and early learning opportunities—making sure there’s equitable access and that families can access the resources and learning opportunities that they need within their communities. That’s a universal perspective. I’ve also done work to support families with low incomes, especially families that attend Head Start. I have a whole set of work on the transition to kindergarten from Head Start. I also have work on the experiences of families who are in the two-generation Early Head Start program—which focuses on infants and toddlers. We need to have universal equitable access, but we also need to support the unique needs of specific children and families.
CEED is very focused on equitable access to these experiences from a racial-equity perspective, making sure that families and children are getting equitable experiences during the early years. That was a big draw for me as far as coming to CEED, to get an opportunity to really think about these early experiences and opportunities and make sure an equity perspective is embedded in all the work we do.