W. Steven

Profile: W. Steven Barnett

Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Education (Economics and Policy) Director, National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)

W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. is the Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and a Board of Governors Professor of Education in Economics and Policy at the GSE. His work examines how public policy affects the young children and their families both in the United States and abroad. More specifically, his research explores how economics can be used to help us better understand the determinants of early learning and development. The son of a Navy officer, Barnett’s interests were influenced by his early life living around the world and attending various, often dissimilar, school systems across the United States.

Dr. Barnett holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Kenyon College and later went on to receive a master’s and doctorate degree in the same field from the University of Michigan. He was a contributor to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study, a now-landmark experiment launched in the early 1960’s that illustrated the short- and long-term effects a high-quality preschool education program can have for young children living in poverty. The study was conducted over four decades and included a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of impacts on life outcomes including educational attainment, employment, and involvement in delinquency and crime. The findings demonstrated that attending a preschool program can result in a significant, positive impact on a number of different life outcomes.The study has been cited in more than one presidential State of the Union Address, and includes some of the most widely cited findings in education research and national education policy.

As the Director of NIEER, Barnett works with a multidisciplinary team to continue to conduct and disseminate research informing early childhood education, policy, and practice, with particular concern for the needs of the most economically disadvantaged populations. NIEER partners extensively with school districts and state government agencies to support stronger programs and policies here in New Jersey, and in turn works to extend the GSE’s mission to Advance Excellence and Equity in Education.


Ph.D. in Economics, University of Michigan (1982)
M.A. in Economics, University of Michigan (1978)
B.A. in Economics, Kenyon College (1976)

Expertise & Research Interest

Economics of Human Development
Early Childhood and Preschool Education
Educational Funding and Policy

Recent & Selected Publications

Barnett, W. S., Grafwallner, R., & Weisenfeld, G. G. (2021). Corona pandemic in the United States shapes new normal for young children and their families. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 29(1), 109-124.
Barnett, W. S., Bernal, R., & Nores, M. (2020). The contributions of economics to early childhood education and care. In D.F. Gullo & M.E. Graue (Eds.), Scientific Influences on Early Childhood Education: From Diverse Perspectives to Common Practices. NY: Routledge.

Barnett, W. S., Friedman-Krauss, A. H., & Weiland, C. (2020). Scaling up effective preschool education: New directions for research. In Graue, M.E., Ryan, S., Gadsen, V., & Levine, F. (Eds.). Advancing knowledge and building capacity for early childhood research. Washington DC: AERA.

Friedman-Krauss, A. H., Barnett, W. S., Garver, K. A., Hodges, K. S., Weisenfeld, G. G., & Gardiner, B.A. (2020). The State of Preschool 2019: State Preschool Yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

Francis, J., & Barnett, W. S. (2019). Relating preschool class size to classroom quality and student achievement. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 49, 49-58.

Nores, M., Bernal, R., & Barnett, W. S. (2019). Center-based care for infants and toddlers: The aeioTU randomized trial. Economics of Education Review, 72, 30–43. 

Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., Friedman-Krauss, A., Frede, E., Nores, M., Hustedt, J. T., Howes, C., & Daniel-Echols, M. (2018). Effects of eight state prekindergarten programs on early learning: A regression-discontinuity analysis. AERA Open 4, 1-16

Barnett, W. S. & Frede, E.C. (2017). Long-term effects of a system of high-quality universal preschool education in the United States. In H.-P. Blossfeld, N. Kulic, J. Skopek, & M. Triventi (Eds.), Childcare, early education and social inequality: An international perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Honors & Awards

Member, National Academy of Education
Fellow, American Educational Research Association
Ranked among Top 120 Public Influence Edu-Scholars, Education Week
Distinguished Leader in Education, Rutgers University Graduate School of Education
(2) Faculty Research Award, Rutgers GSE Alumni Association
Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Research, Rutgers University

Professional Affiliations

National Association for the Education of Young Children 
National Academy of Education
American Educational Research Association