KU News Release

September 28, 2012
Contact: Jill Jess, KU News Service, 785-864-8858

University mourns death of retired faculty member Betty Hart

More Information

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and John Colombo, director of the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies, issued the following statements regarding the death of Betty Hart, associate research professor emeritus at the Life Span Institute:

Gray-Little: “Betty Hart’s ground-breaking research changed the lives of countless children. On behalf of the University of Kansas community, I offer condolences to her loved ones and colleagues.”

Colombo: “Betty Hart’s work contributed enormously to our understanding of the impact of the environment on the development of language in children and to the development of strategies for promoting communicative development in both typically developing children and children with disabilities. Betty’s work was always characterized by careful and rigorous measurement and by meticulous attention to her data. Indeed, it is my understanding that on the night before she died, Betty was still up late, tabulating data that will be used in her final book.”

Hart, 85, died Friday, Sept. 28. She had been in hospice at the Intermountain Centers for Human Development in Tucson, Arizona.

Betty Hart came to the University of Kansas as a graduate student from the University of Washington in the mid-1960s along with Todd Risley, her mentor and main collaborator. Much of their work was based in inner-city Kansas City, Kan., at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project. Hart and Risley’s 1995 book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children,” based on their seminal study of early experience and language acquisition by children at home, showed a stunning 30-million-word difference between the number of words children from the least and most affluent homes heard by age 3.

Their work influenced legislation and funding of early-intervention and parenting education programs nationally and internationally. There are currently more than 3,000 citations to Hart and Risley’s book by other scientists, and it continues to sell as well in 2012 as it did in 1995. “Meaningful Differences” even inspired Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Raspberry to influence a Mississippi town to improve parenting skills.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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