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Dana Charles McCoy Joins HGSE Faculty

By Lory Hough on August 26, 2015 10:11 AM

Dana McCoyOne of the reasons that Dana Charles McCoy was excited to come to the Ed School was because she saw it as a place where people don’t work in isolation. “The interdisciplinary culture is very much alive and supported here,” she says. “I love that faculty and students are encouraged to collaborate with stakeholders with diverse perspectives to solve real world problems.” For McCoy, that real world problem has to do with poverty and the impact it has on early childhood development.

This summer, after joining the faculty as an assistant professor, McCoy talked about collaborations, Head Start, and working internationally.

Your degrees are in psychology, but you collaborate with people from other fields.
My work has always been very interdisciplinary. As a doctoral student at NYU and a post-doc at Harvard, I have been able to work with researchers representing multiple fields outside of psychology, including economics, sociology, public policy, and education. These collaborations have had a huge impact on how I think about and approach research, as well as how I translate my work for academic and non-academic audiences. 

One of those collaborations has been with Associate Professor Stephanie Jones?
Yes. Stephanie and I have been collaborating since I was at NYU on the Chicago School Readiness Project, which is a socio-emotional intervention implemented in Head Start programs in high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods of Chicago. … Right now, we're working together to evaluate the long-term impacts of the project on children’s behavioral outcomes through the end of elementary school. I also served as Stephanie’s teaching fellow this past semester in her Beyond Grit: Noncognitive Factors in School Success course, which was a great introduction to the HGSE classroom.

You’re also working on another Head Start project, correct?
I've been working with a team from Harvard, NYU, and [the nonprofit] MDRC to re-evaluate the Head Start Impact Study, a nationally representative randomized control trial of Head Start that was conducted in the early 2000s.

What are you trying to figure out?
The goal of the project is to understand where, when, and for whom Head Start is most effective, and to use this information to guide policy and optimize Head Start’s impacts on low-income children’s learning and development. In particular, I’ve been focusing on understanding the degree to which Head Start might be more or less effective depending on where centers are located — in urban versus rural settings, in communities with high versus low levels of wraparound services and resources, in high- versus low-crime neighborhoods. This work has been particularly fun since it has allowed me to work with researchers from multiple organizations, as well as representatives from the Administration of Children and Families.

This sounds complex.
We have data from 22 different states and a couple thousand kids, so there’s a lot of complexity given the diversity.

Also complex is the work you’ve been doing internationally, trying to find a way to measure the progress of child development around the world. Tell us about this.

In 2000, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals set benchmarks for improving lives. Two were aimed at children: reducing mortality and improving access to schooling. There have been huge decreases in both mortality and the numbers of children out of school since 2000. Now they’re trying to post new goals targeting broader aspects of children’ wellbeing, but the problem is, we don’t have a quick and cross-culturally valid measurement for child development, just proxies like mortality or schooling or even how tall a child is. With Günther Fink from the Harvard [T.H. Chan] School of Public Health, I’ve developed a new measure for the 0–3 age range that uses caregivers’ reports of children’s motor, language, cognitive, social, and emotional skills to capture these complex processes in fast, cost-effective ways. We initially piloted it in rural Tanzania; now, we’re continuing piloting in 10 more countries. Our hope is to make this tool publicly available so that governments and agencies can track children’s development globally over time, and make more informed decisions about how to allocate scarce resources to benefit the largest number of children.