Professional Biography

Dr. Gadsden began her career teaching developmental English, reading, and educational psychology at Oakland and Wayne State Universities in Michigan. From 1983 to 1985, she was a research analyst at Policy Studies Associates in Washington, D.C. In 1988, Dr. Gadsden joined Penn GSE’s Literacy Research Center, where she became associate director in 1989. A former Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Gadsden served as associate director in the National Center on Adult Literacy for six years. In 1994, she became the director of the newly founded National Center on Fathers and Families, an interdisciplinary policy research center focused on child and family well-being. She also served as Education Graduate Group Chair from 1996 to 2004. In 2006, she was named the William T. Carter Professor in Child Development and Education.

She is an active member of the American Educational Research Association, serving as vice president of Division G, Social Contexts of Education from 2003 to 2006; the Society for Research in Child Development, serving as co-executive officer of the Black Caucus and program co-chair for the 2009 biennial meeting; the National Reading Conference; and the International Reading Association. She serves on the advisory boards of the Philadelphia United Way School Readiness Initiative and the Goodling Center for Family Literacy and has served on congressionally mandated review and advisory panels, including those of the Reading Excellence Program, Comprehensive School Reform, and the National Academy of Sciences. She also serves or has served on editorial boards of the Journal of Reading, the Journal of Reading Behavior, Fathering, and the National Head Start Association’s Dialog.

Research Interests and Current Projects

Her current projects include a longitudinal study on intergenerational learning within African-American and Latino families; a study of parent engagement in children’s early literacy; a study with young fathers in urban settings; a study on literacy, education, and health; a policy study on incarcerated parents and their families; and a study of children of incarcerated parents. She is participating in an NICHD-funded project (Dr. John Fantuzzo, principal investigator) on the development of an integrated Head Start curriculum.

She has served as principal investigator or co-investigator on grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ford Foundation, Mott Foundation, Spencer Foundation, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and National Institutes for Health. She works with Penn colleagues in the medical school and the Provost’s Interdisciplinary Seminar on Health Disparities on health and educational disparities.


Ed.D. (Educational Psychology and Policy) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1988.

B.A. (Psychology and English) Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, 1978.

Areas of Expertise

Literacy and at-risk youth

Fathers and families

Intergenerational learning

Parental engagement

Selected Publications