KU scientists will lead a national research network to bridge the "30 million word gap"

KU scientists will lead a national research network to bridge the "30 million word gap"

On October 17, a grant award was announced at a White House event that recognized the decades of leadership by the University of Kansas Life Span Institute in discovering and addressing the so-called “30 million word gap,” referring to the vast difference in the number of words that some children from poverty backgrounds hear by age four compared to those of children from more affluent homes.

First identified by the seminal research of Betty Hart and Todd Risley, this early difference in the amount and quality of talk to which infants and toddlers are exposed often leads to an ever-widening disparity in children’s vocabulary and early literacy skills once they are in school.

Judith Carta, Charles Greenwood and Dale Walker will direct the national network of experts in language and literacy development called the Bridging the Word Gap Network. Like Hart and Risley before them, they are research scientists at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, which Greenwood directs, located in a low-income Kansas City, Kansas neighborhood.

“We have learned valuable lessons about how to address this gap using evidence-based interventions for improving children’s language learning environments, but many children are still not reaping the bene ts from our research,” said Carta. “It is time to bring these lessons to scale and to more fully integrate them into a forward-looking agenda of research and practice.”

The network is part of a larger Bridging the Word Gap effort endorsed by the White House and coordinated by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

As more communities around the country are mounting city- and state-wide efforts to work with parents and childcare providers to bridge the word gap, the research network will help researchers learn the most effective ways to address this urgent issue, Walker said. “Our aim is to reduce the number of children entering school with delays in language and early literacy.”