NEWS RELEASE, 10/20/99

Berkeley researchers to examine how culture adds up in early math development in U.S., Japan, China

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Just how culture helps development of math concepts in young American, Japanese and Chinese children will be explored in a $1.5 million study led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

Under close examination will be the roles of children's home and classroom environments, child-rearing and child-care customs, as well as knowledge and belief systems of parents, teachers and other caregivers.

The three-year, cross-national project's ultimate aim is to improve teaching and learning in preschool and elementary school years.

"We hope this research will show us when and how we can most effectively support the development of young children's mathematical knowledge and abilities, so when they enter elementary school they'll be ready for a standards-based math curriculum," said Prentice Starkey, one of the researchers and an associate professor with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

About 200 children ages 3 through 6 will be studied from each of the three subject countries. Half will come from low socioeconomic families, the rest from middle-income backgrounds.

"We'll be investigating how these cultures support children's early mathematical development in multiple learning environments - home, child care, preschool and kindergarten," said Starkey.

Joining Starkey in the study is Alice Klein of the UC Berkeley's Institute of Human Development. Starkey also is on the staff of the institute. Both Starkey and Klein consulted with the California Department of Education on math education guidelines for pre-kindergarten education.

Also working with Starkey and Klein will be Mark Wilson, a professor in the Graduate School of Education, who researches student measurement and assessment.

The research project will be assisted by faculty from the University of Hawaii, Beijing Normal University and Keio University in Japan.

Educators already know that informal math knowledge starts developing very early in life and serves as a foundation for acquisition of formal math skills in elementary school, said Starkey.

"But research conducted in the 1990s," he said, "has revealed that children enter elementary school with surprisingly large differences in the extent of their mathematical knowledge.

"This knowledge tends to be less extensive in children from low-income families than in children from middle-income families, and it tends to be less extensive in American children in general than in Chinese and Japanese children."

Starkey and Klein worked with Chinese educators on a cross-cultural study of pre-kindergarten children's mathematical development that was reported earlier this year at the meeting of Society for Research in Child Development. A key finding was that American children in general enter kindergarten with an understanding of math about a year behind their Chinese peers.

Not enough study has been done to determine the age when achievement differences first manifest themselves, according to Klein and Starkey.

Research funding comes from the Interagency Education Research Initiative, a joint effort of the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and U.S. Education Department.


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