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Faculty & Research

Dana Charles McCoy

Assistant Professor of Education

Dana Charles McCoy

Degree:  Ph.D., New York University, (2013)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.495.0624
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Vitae/CV:   Dana Charles McCoy.pdf
Office:  Larsen 704
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member and cc the Faculty Assistant
Faculty Assistant:  Anne Blevins


Dana Charles McCoy is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). Her work focuses on understanding the ways that poverty-related risk factors in children's home, school, and neighborhood environments affect the development of their cognitive and socioemotional skills in early childhood. She is also interested in the development, refinement, and evaluation of early intervention programs designed to promote positive development and resilience in young children, particularly in terms of their self-regulation and executive function. McCoy's research is centered in both domestic and international contexts, including Brazil, Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia. She has a particular interest in interdisciplinary theory, causal methodology, and ecologically valid measurement. Before joining the HGSE faculty, McCoy served as an NICHD National Research Service Award post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. She graduated with an A.B. in Psychological and Brain Sciences from Dartmouth College and received her Ph.D. in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Quantitative Analysis from New York University. McCoy's work has been published in journals such as Developmental Psychology, Child Development, Pediatrics, and The Lancet. She has presented her work to audiences around the world, including the WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank.

Click here to see a full list of Dana McCoy's courses.


Contexts inside and outside of school walls as predictors of differential effectiveness in preschool professional development (2016-2019)

This project aims to understand the conditions under which professional development programs are more versus less effective. Specifically, we explore whether variation in treatment effects in the NCRECE professional development study is predicted by characteristics within school walls (e.g., the composition of students and teachers), as well as those outside of school walls. As part of this work, we will adapt an existing Systematic Social Observation (SSO) protocol to assess the characteristics of center neighborhoods and school grounds using publicly available neighborhood imaging.

This project is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Terri Sabol and her research team at Northwestern University and is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Assessing the impact of socio-emotional learning programing in Brazil (2016-2018)

This study aims examines the efficacy of a culturally adapted social-emotional learning curriculum — Programa Compasso (PC) — in Brazilian primary schools. Using a three-arm cluster randomized control trial, we assess the impact of PC on children's social-emotional skills (e.g., executive function, emotion regulation, social competence) and academic outcomes (e.g., literacy, math scores). To address questions about scalability, we will also explore whether there are differences in the effectiveness of PC based on the level of training and support provided to teachers.

This study is being completed with support from the Harvard Lemann Fund, and involves a collaboration with Dr's. Vladimir Ponczek and Cristine Campos de Xavier Pinto from the São Paulo School of Economics and representatives from the Instituto Vila Educação.

Developing and disseminating the most effective tools for measuring population-level development for children under age 3 (2016)

The aim of this project is to develop the first population-level measure of early childhood development for children from birth to age three. This tool, called the Caregiver Reported Early Development Index (CREDI), quantifies children's motor, cognitive/language, and social-emotional skills and has been pilot tested in 16 countries. Final publication of the CREDI is scheduled for the end of 2016.

Assessing the impact of socio-emotional learning programing in Brazil (2016-2018)

A long-term follow-up of the Chicago School Readiness Project (2016-2019)

The Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) is a randomized control-trial intervention lead by Dr. C. Cybele Raver at NYU. CSRP aims to improve low-income preschoolers' emotional and behavioral adjustment through a comprehensive, classroom-based intervention in Head Start. Through additional funding from the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Institutes of Health, we will follow CSRP participants into high school to study their long-term social-emotional and academic outcomes.

Measuring child reactivity and regulation in the early childhood classroom setting (2016-2017)

This project aims to develop an ecologically valid, observer-rated measure of children's executive function and regulation-related skills for use in early childhood classroom settings. We also aim to determine whether this new measure is sensitive to second-to-second changes in children's physiological arousal (e.g., skin conductance, heart rate, movement), as measured using a wearable but non-intrusive autonomic sensing device.

These aims will be achieved via a collaboration between Dana McCoy and Stephanie Jones at HGSE, and Deb Leong and Elena Bodrova of Tools of the Mind. This work is funded by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child and the HGSE Dean's Venture Fund.

Sponsored Projects

Two Approaches to Measuring Executive Function and Regulation-Related Skills in Early Childhood Classroom Settings (2017-2019)
Bezos Family Foundation

Developing executive function (EF) and regulation-related skills (RRS) is a core milestone of early childhood (Ursache, Blair, & Raver, 2012). Comprising a diverse set of sub-skills, EF and RRS collectively help children to control their attention, emotion, and behaviors in the service of meeting a particular goal. Together, these skills allow children to attend to important information, avoid impulsive reactions, and navigate social challenges in their everyday lives. Indeed, a large literature has shown that EF and RRS are central to children’s success both early in life and through adulthood (e.g., Blair & Razza, 2007; Moffitt et al., 2011). A number of methods are currently available to measure RRS in early childhood. These approaches include computerized and behaviorally-based tasks that target children’s ability to activate specific regulatory sub-skills, as well as adult (e.g., teacher, parent) reports of broader behavior or clinical symptoms such as ADHD (Jones, Zaslow, Darling-Churchill, & Halle, 2016). Each of these approaches has strengths and limitations. Importantly, none of the current approaches to measuring RRS appropriately capture the second-to-second changes in children’s physiology and stress that may be underlying their observed behaviors. Neuroscientific evidence indicates that children’s development and deployment of RRS is strongly related to their levels of physiological arousal in response to stressful situations (Blair, 2010), but the vast majority of this work has been conducted in artificial, lab-based settings. Understanding how changes in arousal corresponds to children’s day-to-day RRS in real-world classroom settings is critical to creating the next generation of interventions and to accurately capturing the effects of the approaches available to us now. The overall aim of this project is to develop and validate a new set of tools that not only address these gaps in the scientific literature, but also contribute important information to practitioners and interventionists attempting to improve young children’s RRS.

Contexts Inside and Outside of School Walls as Predictors of Differential Effectiveness in Preschool Professional Development (2016-2019)

The aim of the proposed study is to quantify and predict variation in professional development effectiveness across a large, diverse sample of children, teachers, centers, and cities. Specifically, we propose to use data from the National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education Professional Development Study (NCRECE PDS), which is a randomized controlled trial funded by IES to assess the independent impacts of a 14-week professional development course and a year-long coaching program in 9 U.S. cities from 2008-2011. In this retrospective efficacy study, we will (1) quantify the variation in impacts across centers and cities in the NCRECE PDS, (2) explore whether this variation can be predicted by characteristics within schools (e.g., teacher qualifications, student composition), and (3) explore whether this variation can be predicted by characteristics outside of school walls (e.g., neighborhood characteristics, safety/quality of school grounds). Addressing these aims will be critical for informing the scale-up and refinement of professional development efforts in the United States.

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