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This conference is invitation only, and both in-person and virtual options for attendance will be available. All times below are listed in Central Time.

Researchers in economics, developmental psychology and many other fields have spent considerable effort in the past 50 years aiming to account for the factors that give rise to inequality in young children’s skill development, determine whether these factors are malleable, and test the cost-effectiveness of interventions to manipulate these factors in the service of raising skills and closing gaps across groups of children. Results from these efforts have generally been disappointing. Evidence from the US National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP, “The Nation’s Report Card”) shows that the reading skills of 13-year-olds have not changed appreciably since 1971. Reading scores for 9-year-olds have barely changed since 2004 when the assessment was revised. More importantly for both 9- and 13-year-olds the gap between the highest scoring and lowest scoring students has increased because the scores for children in the lowest 10% declined. US children fare no better in international perspective: Scores from the PISA show that among 15-year-olds between 2000-2018 there has been no change in math scores and that US students score below the OECD average. There has also been no change in reading scores or in comparison with the OECD average. With few exceptions, interventions have had relatively weak treatment impacts and among those that show short term success few impacts are sustained in the long run. The translation from promising small-scale researcher-designed and implemented interventions to success at scale has proved elusive.

This frustrating state of scientific knowledge inspires us to pose new questions and look in new directions for answers. Conference speakers will present work that presents new theoretical arguments as well as new empirical findings that inform these arguments. The work will focus on improving skill development among economically disadvantaged children and will draw from research in the US and in international contexts. The questions this conference aims to answer include:

  • What is the relative influence of parents, schools, and other factors in early childhood human capital development?
  • What skills matter for children’s long-run success? How can children learn these skills?
  • What can we learn from historical data to inform contemporary theories of children’s human capital development?
  • How malleable are the inputs to skill development in early childhood and what does it cost to change these inputs?
  • “Tools” versus “programs”: How should interventions be designed?



Thursday, February 24, 2022
8:15 am - 8:45 am
Continental Breakfast
8:45 am - 9:00 am
Opening Remarks
9:00 am - 10:30 am
Measuring Children’s Skills

Hiro Yoshikawa, Moderator, New York University

Expanding the Conceptualization of Child “Outcomes” in Early Childhood

Assessing Home Environments and Children’s Skills in Under-Resourced International Contexts

10:30 am - 11:00 am
Coffee and Snacks
11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Children in Preschools

Jens Ludwig, Moderator, University of Chicago

What Matters in Preschool? New Findings

Early Childhood Interventions – What Does the Evidence Say?

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

1st Floor Dining Room


1:30 pm - 3:00 pm
Children in Programs

Anya Samek, Moderator, University of California, San Diego

New Evidence from UK Sure Start Health Interventions for Low Income Children Cost/Benefit

Achieving Population Impact and Disparity Reduction Through Early Childhood Intervention

3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Children in Family Environments: Parental Attitudes and Beliefs

Flavio Cunha, Moderator, Rice University

Addressing the Roots of Educational Inequalities by Shifting Parental Beliefs

Recent Survey Evidence on Beliefs about Early Childhood Investments

The Limits of Nudging (or, How Not to Crowd Out Parental Motivation)

Friday, February 25, 2022
8:30 am - 9:00 am
Continental Breakfast
9:00 am - 10:30 am
Children in Family Environments: Family Income

Steven Durlauf, Moderator, University of Chicago

The Long-term Impacts of Income Transfers to the Poor on Child Development: Lessons from Historical Data

New Evidence from Unconditional Cash Transfers and Early Childhood Development in the US

11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Children in Family Environments: Parenting

Matthias Doepke, Moderator, Northwestern University                      

The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Investments in Children’s Human Capital

Leveraging Technology to Complement or Substitute for Parental Investments

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

1st Floor Dining Room

1:30 pm
Conference Adjourns