Stephanie Smith

Urban Education


Work Position
Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Studies, University of Florida.

Date passed dissertation defense
April 20, 2011


Stephanie Smith received her Bachelor of Science in Education from Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2003.  She graduated Cum Laude and with Highest Honors in the College of Education.  In addition to her major concentration in Early Childhood Education, Stephanie completed minor concentrations in Music, History, and Sociology.  She was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Alpha Iota.  Upon completing her degree, Stephanie taught for a year in a private school in Indianapolis and then two years in a public school on the South Side of Chicago.  She then took a position as Pre-Kindergarten coordinator for a Chicago Head Start.
Stephanie received her Master of Arts in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies with a concentration in Sociology of Education from Loyola University Chicago in 2007, while working full time as an educator.  Her master’s thesis, Does Inequitable Funding Result in Equitable Schools? A Comparison of the Funding Policies of Two States, examined the funding policies of the States of Illinois and West Virginia to determine if one was more equitable than the other, and also whether or not this made a difference in student outcomes.

After completing her coursework in the Urban Systems Program, Stephanie returned to Chicago to research and write her dissertation.  The theoretical framework for the study was presented in July, 2010 at the International Symposium on Basil Bernstein in Brisbane Australia.  Preliminary findings will be presented this Spring at the 2011 Meetings of the Sociology of Education in Pacific Grove, CA and at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New Orleans, LA.

As a graduate student, Stephanie taught in the Urban Teacher Education Program and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rutgers.  She also worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research as part of a research exchange with the Newark Schools Research Collaborative.  She is currently Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Studies in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, & Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida.

Title of the Dissertation

Race, Class, and Early Childhood Education: A Comparison of Two Different Urban Preschools

Dissertation Abstract

While it is becoming increasingly recognized that early childhood education is a valuable part of the educational process, the methods used to teach young children are often ignored by government agencies and researchers touting the value of pre-kindergarten programs.  Although reforms may dictate that early childhood programs be more available to all children, the programs created to address low-income communities are often different than those in more affluent communities.  Just as pedagogy differs between affluent and low-income elementary and secondary schools, the pedagogy in low-income and affluent preschools is dissimilar.  However, the work of some educational scholars suggests that low-income children—especially low-income minority children—require a more structured and directed pedagogy than their more affluent white peers. 

This is a duel case study of two schools using differing pedagogical approaches for low-income minority children, one progressive (Malaguzzi) and one traditional (Woodlawn).  Using a Bernsteinian theoretical framework, this study compares of two Head Start centers in high-minority Chicago neighborhoods to examine the effects of different pedagogic practices on the development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills of young children.  The study was conduced over a five month period in included observation of two classrooms (four classrooms) at each site, teacher and parent interviews, photo documentation, and pre and post testing of children.   

Pre and post testing showed that students at Malaguzzi had twice the level of academic growth as students at Woodlawn.  Observational data showed more consistent academic growth at Malaguzzi than Woodlawn across more developmental areas.  Children at both sites showed growth in pre-literacy and social/emotional skills, but the children at Malaguzzi also showed growth in problem solving and imagination—skills that aid in abstract thought.  Additionally, children at Malaguzzi were better behaved, having better internalized classrooms rules and expectations.

While further study is needed on a broader scale, results from this study suggest that progressive early education programs have the potential to better prepare children for elementary school.   Improved kindergarten preparation among low-income minority children is an important step in closing the educational achievement gap.  Child-directed progressive programs may better close the gap than teacher-directed traditional programs. 



Director's Message The Universities Transportation Contact Us
Global Urban Studies Urban Environment Urban Health Core Curriculum
Student Handbook Schedule & Registration Links Funding Sources