Faculty News

Lynne Vernon-Feagans appointed to national panel on language and learning

William C. Friday Distinguished Professor Lynne Vernon-Feagans has been appointed to a national expert panel on “The Role of Language in School Learning: Implications for Closing the Achievement Gap.”

The panel was convened by the National Research Council (NRC), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that works to improve government decision making and public policy.

The panel will review the research literature on the role of language in closing the achievement gap that persists in the United States between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts. They will study the relationship between language and academic achievement, with a focus on two groups of children: those who are disadvantaged by their socioeconomic status and those who are English Language Learners, new to the English language.

“Although we know that language skills are critically important in children’s development and contribute to their success in school, we don’t know as much about whether language differences among children in poverty and/or children from ethnic and language minority families contribute to the achievement gap,” said Vernon-Feagans. “We also need to know whether good language skills in children can actually help close the achievement gap.”

After reviewing the published research literature, the panel members and other invited authors will write position papers on these issues. The papers will be presented at a national conference in 2009, to be hosted by the panel and open to the public.

The panel will present a report to NRC in 2010. 

Kenji Hakuta, professor of education at Stanford University, is chair of the panel.  Other panel members, in addition to Vernon-Feagans, are:

  • Donna Christian, president, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, D.C.
  • Jill de Villiers, Sophia and Austin Smith Professor, Department of Philosophy, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
  • Fred Genesee, professor, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec
  • Lila R. Gleitman, professor of psychology and linguistics and co-director, Institute for Research in Cognitive Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • Claude Goldenberg, professor of education, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
  • William Labov, John H. and Margaret B. Bassitt Professor of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Vernon-Feagans is co-director of the National Research Center on Rural Education Support, established in 2004 with a $10 million, five-year award from the Institute for Educational Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education and based at UNC-Chapel Hill.

She is principal investigator of one of the Center’s major research programs, the Targeted Reading Intervention: A Rural Early Literacy Initiative. In this investigation, researchers are examining the issues facing children as they begin their education.

She also directs the Family Life Project, an initiative to study nearly 1,300 rural children beginning at their birth and continuing through their transition to pre-kindergarten settings. She is examining the biological, individual, family and community processes that lead to good or poor outcomes for these children. This study was established in 2002 with a $16.5 million grant from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and received additional funding of $12 million in 2005.

Vernon-Feagans serves as coordinator of the Early Childhood, Intervention and Literacy research emphasis within the School of Education’s Ph.D. in Education and M.A. in Education programs.

NRC functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. These four organizations, collectively known as the National Academies, operate under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.