Read: Harvard Educational Review

How the Word Gap Argument Negatively Impacts Young Children of Latinx Immigrants’ Conceptualizations of Learning: What It Could Mean for Young Children is about using the concept of agency as a tool for improving the educational experiences of young children in the early grades. Agency in the context of schooling is the ability to influence what and how something is learned in order to expand capabilities. This article uses economic theories of human development, agency, and capability to think carefully about what young children need in their early schooling years. Classroom examples of agency demonstrate the need for parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers to encourage dynamic, agentic learning experiences for all children, not just those of privilege. Also see the Harvard Educational Review blog here.

LISTEN: The “word gap” argument perpetuates discrimination

NPR’s Code Switch podcast

NPR’s coverage of the word gap has changed over time and more and more empirical evidence points to flaws and discrimination in the foundational work supporting the “word gap” argument as well as evidence that the “word gap” is justifying narrow, rote learning experiences, deficit thinking and a Whiteness-oriented pressure on parents of color to act and talk like white parents. The Code Switch podcast piece did a fantastic job covering this shift and includes important work from Dr. Majorie Orellana. See also Sperry, Sperry & Miller and a breadth of scholarship from linguists, anthropologists and education researchers. NPR’s call to stop talking about the word gap can be found here.

Finding: Relationship between deficit thinking and learning experiences


Adair, Colegrove & McManus (2018) Troubling Messages: Agency and Learning in the Early Schooling Experiences of Children of Latinx Immigrants. Teachers College Record Vol.120(6) 1-40

Abstract: Early childhood education in the United States is currently suspended between the belief that young children learn through dynamic experiences in which they are able to create and experiment, and the belief that young children’s emerging literacy and math skills require formal instruction and assessments to ensure future academic success. This balance is difficult because each approach requires different allowances for children’s agency. This study investigates how district administrators, school administrators, pre-K–3 teachers, and bilingual first graders within a school district serving Latinx families. The data reveals an inverse relationship—termed agency diffusion and deficit infusion—between participants’ ideas about the amount of agency students should be afforded in the classroom and the deficit ideas they articulate about children of immigrants and their families. Our findings suggest that even in supportive, academically successful districts, deficit thinking at any level can justify narrow, rote types of instruction that ultimately impact the types of messages young children receive about learning and being a learner.

Read: Special Issue on Early Schooling Experiences for Children of Latinx Immigrants

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Supporting Young Children of Immigrants in PreK-3. Occasional Paper Series, 2018 (39). Retrieved from

This special issue of the Occasional Paper Series co-edited by Dr. Fabienne Doucet (NYU) and Dr. Jennifer Keys Adair (UT Austin) describes practices and policies that can positively impact the early schooling of children of immigrants in the United States. We consider the intersectionality of young children’s lives and what needs to change in order to ensure that race, class, immigration status, gender, and dis/ability can effectively contribute to children’s experiences at school and in other instructional contexts, rather than prevent them from getting the learning experiences they need and deserve. Contributors include: Ramón Antonio Martínez, Sandra L. Osorio, Max Vázquez Domínguez, Denise Dávila, Silvia Noguerón-Liu, Alejandra Barraza, Pedro Martinez, Zeynep Isik-Ercan, Adriana Alvarez, Lesley Koplow, Noelle Dean, Margaret Blachly, Gigliana Melzi, Adina R. Schick, Lauren Scarola and Kiyomi Sánchez-Suzuki Colegrove