Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Domain-Specific Cognitive Stimulation and Maternal Sensitivity as Predictors of Early Academic Outcomes among Low-Income African American Preschoolers

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Domain-Specific Cognitive Stimulation and Maternal Sensitivity as Predictors of Early Academic Outcomes among Low-Income African American Preschoolers

Article excerpt

Toni Harris Virginia State University

John Sideris University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Zewelanji Serpell Virginia Commonwealth University

Margaret Burchinal University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chloe Pickett Virginia State University


By the end of preschool, many African American children from low-income families have demonstrable lags in early language, literacy, and mathematical skills (Denton Flanagan & McPhee, 2009; Hoffman & Llagas, 2003; Sbarra & Pianta, 2001). African American boys are particularly at-risk for poor early outcomes (Chatterji, 2006; Davis, 2003; Downer & Pianta, 2006; Kaiser, Cai, Hancock, & Foster, 2002; Stanton-Chapman et al., 2004) and research shows that with each increasing grade level African American girls outperform boys in all academic domains including math, language, and science (Roberts, Burchinai, & Durham, 1999). It has been suggested that African American children's family contexts be more closely examined to determine how they differentially influence African American children's academic achievement, in light of unique risk factors associated with race, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES, Thomas & Stevenson, 2009).

There is a significant body of literature that has examined how cognitive stimulation and maternal sensitivity predicts language outcomes during early childhood (Davis, 2003; Roberts, Jurgens, & Burchinai, 2005); and among Canadian children, how domain-specific cognitive stimulation (e.g., mathematics stimulation) predicts mathematical skills during middle childhood (Blevins-Knabe & Musun-Miller, 1996; LeFevre et al., 2009). From these studies, one can ascertain that during early childhood maternal sensitivity and cognitive stimulation predict language outcomes, and that domain-specific stimulation should predict mathematics outcomes during early childhood as they have done in middle childhood.

As previously stated, by kindergarten entry, African American children in general, and lowincome African American children in particular, continue to demonstrate lags in performance (i.e., achievement scores and grades) that are maintained throughout their academic careers (Jencks & Phillips, 1998; Lee, 2002) with African American males demonstrating the greatest lags. In spite of these outcomes, the literature has not closely examined how domain-specific parenting variables predict African American children's language and mathematics academic outcomes prior to kindergarten entry, nor has it closely examined predictors based on gender. The primary goal of the current study is to take a closer look at how maternal sensitivity and domain-specific cognitive stimulation predict applied problem-solving skills, letter-word identification, and vocabulary during early childhood, by gender, so that more precise recommendations for successful academic outcomes can be provided to low-income African American parents.

The theoretical framework for the current study derives from ecological-developmental theories (Bronfenbrenner, 1994; Garcia Coll et al., 1996) that emphasize that development is best understood by examining the multiple ecologies of children and inputs from individuals that constitute them. All ecological-developmental theories contend that development depends, in part, on the degree of support provided by a child's environment, particularly the home environment. Garcia Coll and colleagues' (1996) integrative model adds cultural specificity to traditional ecological-developmental models by describing macrosystem variables (e.g., racism, discrimination, and history of oppression) that uniquely affect children from racial/ethnic minority groups. This integrative model posits that for African American children, developmental processes are affected first by social position variables such as race, social class, and gender.

Much of the existing educational research examining early predictors of academic skills among African American children uses a comparative approach with middle-class Caucasians serving as the reference group (Lee, 2003). …

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