School of Education
May 1, 2008
Professor Margaret Burchinal’s Current Research Focuses on Early Education and Identification of Protective Factors that May Promote Resilience Among At-Risk Children
Dr. Margaret Burchinal is a Professor in the Department of Education at the University of California at Irvine. She is interested in determining how child care experiences can help children, especially children from low-income families, succeed in school and identifying effective teaching practices and instructional programs for preschoolers and children in elementary school. As an applied statistician, she has served as the primary data analyst for many large child care and evaluation project and as an advisor for programs such as Head Start and the Los Angeles Universal Preschool Project.
Margaret Burchinal moved to UCI from the University of North Carolina (UNC) in fall, 2007, but her interest in education dates back to her undergraduate years. She was born in Ohio, but grew up in Ames, Iowa. Her father was a sociologist who helped develop ERIC, the first on-line information search system. She studied developmental psychology at Iowa State University, becoming interested in the child care programs similar to Head Start that demonstrated that good quality education during early childhood can make a big difference for children from low-income families. She attended graduate school at UNC because it had one of the premier child care projects – the Abecedarian Project at the FPG Child Development Institute. After earning a master’s of art in special education, she enrolled in the quantitative psychology project so she could address some of the complex statistical issues implicit in examining treatment effects in long-term longitudinal data. She married a fellow graduate student and they spent 7 months in Leiden, the Netherlands as post-docs. Returning to Chapel Hill, she became a statistician at FPG and loved being able to combine pursuing her career with raising two children. During the next 20 years, she became the Director of the Design and Statistical Computing Unit at the FPG Child Development Institute and a Research Professor in Psychology.
Her career includes pursuing both educational and methodological interests. Her educational interests have focused on early education as a means to improve school readiness for at-risk children and identification of protective factors that may help promote resilience among at-risk children. She has been a leading contributor to both literatures. She has served as the primary statistician for many educational studies of early childhood, including the 11-state Pre-Kindergarten Evaluation for the National Center for Early Learning and Development, the longitudinal study of 1300 children in NICHD Study of Early Child Care; the 4 state evaluation of child care in the Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes Study; the 3 site study of family child care homes in the Family Child Care and Relative Care Study, and the Abecedarian and CARE Projects. As an applied methodologist, she has helped to demonstrate that sophisticated methods such as meta-analysis, fixed-effect modeling, hierarchical linear modeling, piecewise regression, and generalized estimating equations provide educational researchers with advanced techniques to address important educational issues such as whether child care quality measures are biased.
Her primary focus at the moment is examining the role of both pre-service and in-service education and training in preparing teachers for child care and pre-kindergarten programs. A recent reanalysis of data from large child care studies suggests that quality of instruction and teacher-child interactions, not having a teaching degree, was related to better child outcomes. A close examination of programs that prepare early childhood teachers reveals that they tend to be overwhelmed and lack full-time well-trained faculty, suggesting that these programs may need substantial investments before we can expect that teacher education will improve quality of care. On the other hand, there are very promising in-service training programs. These programs tend to include mentoring, clear training goals and materials, and, often, videotaping the teacher so she can observe the extent to which she is implementing the recommended practices. Further evaluation of such programs is ongoing.
Dr. Burchinal’s personal interests focus on traveling and out-door activities such as hiking. She fantasized about living next to the beach while growing up in Iowa, so living in Laguna Beach is a dream-come-true. Her favorite local hiking places include the beaches of Laguna Beach and Crystal Cove. Associated with work, she has been lucky enough to travel to Puerto Rico, England, Portugal, New Zealand, and Australia.