Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children

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Item #WE1095B
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This study of ordinary families and how they talk to their very young children is no ordinary study at all.

Betty Hart and Todd Risley wanted to know why, despite best efforts in preschool programs to equalize opportunity, children from low-income homes remain well behind their more economically advantaged peers years later in school.

Their painstaking study began by recording each month — for 2-1/2 years — one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families, categorized as professional, working class, or welfare families. Years of coding and analyzing every utterance in 1,318 transcripts followed. Rare is a database of this quality. "Remarkable," says Assistant Secretary of Education Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, of the findings: By age 3, the recorded spoken vocabularies of the children from the professional families were larger than those of the parents in the welfare families. Between professional and welfare parents, there was a difference of almost 300 words spoken per hour. Extrapolating this verbal interaction to a year, a child in a professional family would hear 11 million words while a child in a welfare family would hear just 3 million.

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"Remarkable findings...ground-breaking..." --Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, Ph.D.

"Alerts us to how much each person’s future intellectual ability hinges upon his or her experience in the first year of life." --U.S. Senator Thomas Daschle

"From age 2 on, there exist large differences in children’s familiarity with unusual words, standard pronunciation, and complex syntax, a fact that was long suspected, but not well documented and quantified until the monumental research of Betty Hart and Todd Risley." --E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

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