Children’s Learning Institute awarded $4.7 million to improve education outcomes

Helping children succeed at school from the left are Carolyn Denton, Ph.D., Susan Landry, Ph.D., and April Crawford, Ph.D., of the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth. PHOTO CREDIT: Maricruz Kwon, UTHealth

Helping children succeed at school from the left are Carolyn Denton, Ph.D., Susan Landry, Ph.D., and April Crawford, Ph.D., of the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth. PHOTO CREDIT: Maricruz Kwon, UTHealth

The Children’s Learning Institute at McGovern Medical School has been awarded $4.7 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences for programs to further the institute’s commitment to helping children realize their full potential.

“Our core mission is to determine what educational programs work best for children, educators and their families,” said Susan Landry, Ph.D., the founder and director of the institute, which is part of the Department of Pediatrics.

In keeping with that mission, April Crawford, Ph.D., associate professor and director of strategic initiatives and implementation at the institute, received $3.3 million to compare different types of professional development programs for preschool teachers and Carolyn Denton, Ph.D., received $1.4 million to develop a reading program for at-risk kindergarten students.

“Many places publish research and that’s where it stops. This is where it starts for us. Our job is to get this information out to educators across the state,” said Landry, who holds the Albert and Margaret Alkek Distinguished Chair in Early Childhood Development and the Michael Matthew Knight Memorial Professorship in Pediatrics.

The director of strategic initiatives and program implementation at the Children’s Learning Institute, Crawford is using her grant to determine the most effective way to provide professional development opportunities for preschool teachers in the Lone Star State.

In particular, Crawford will compare the results of teachers asked to complete a professional development activity on their own, teachers who are coached remotely, others who participate in professional learning communities and a fourth group that will serve as a control group with their normal activities.

The study will focus on schools serving mostly low-income students in the Houston, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth areas. It will involve 440 classrooms over five years.

“We will measure the effects on teachers’ skills as well as children’s school readiness skills including social and emotional, language and early literacy,” Crawford said.

Crawford will use Texas School Ready, which was developed by the Children’s Learning Institute. It is a comprehensive preschool teacher training program combining a research-based, state-adopted curriculum with ongoing professional development and progress monitoring tools.

The purpose of Denton’s grant is to adapt a literacy program developed for first-grade students who are at risk of reading difficulties into one for kindergarten students and then conduct a pilot study of the program. Created by the Children’s Learning Institute, the program is called Reading RULES!

“Many children with early reading difficulties fall behind in their schooling. Early intervention is one of the most effective ways to get them back on track,” said Denton, a professor of pediatrics and the Meg and Dick Weekley Chair in Childhood Reading and Learning.

Denton’s three-year study will be conducted in the Midlothian Independent School District in the Greater Dallas Area, where kindergarten teachers will implement the program.

“It’s a hands-on program emphasizing knowledge of alphabet letter names and sounds, beginning word reading, beginning text reading, vocabulary and beginning writing,” Denton said.

Teacher input from the pilot study will be used to maximize the program’s effectiveness, she said.

The Children’s Learning Institute was founded in 2003 and currently impacts children, families and teachers across Texas and the country through research, clinical programs, statewide early childhood initiatives, parenting programs and teacher mentoring programs. For more information about the Children’s Learning Institute, visit

Rob Cahill, Office of Public Affairs