Professional Biography

Dr. Sharon Wolf is an applied developmental psychologist who studies how children's family and educational environments shape their development, focusing on disadvantaged populations in the United States and in low-income countries. Dr. Wolf's research informs interventions and tests the effectiveness of theoretically informed policy solutions designed to promote childhood development and learning through randomized field experiments.

Prior to joining the faculty at Penn GSE, Dr. Wolf was a postdoctoral research scientist at the Global TIES for Children research center at New York University and a National Poverty Fellow with the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was in residence at the US Department of Health and Human Services. She received her Ph.D. in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Quantitative Analysis from New York University.

Personal website:

Research Interests and Current Projects

Dr. Wolf’s current work focuses on three primary areas: developing and evaluating school-based interventions to improve educational quality and child learning outcomes; the measurement of educational settings and children’s learning outcomes; and understanding the links between poverty, education, and child development.

Dr. Wolf currently has worked with Ministry of Education in Ghana to improve the quality of their universal kindergarten education system by helping teachers implement child-centered, play-based learning teaching practices. In partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action and academic collaborators at Penn and NYU, she has developed and evaluated a scalable model for in-service teacher training, a parental awareness program delivered through school parent-teacher associations (see here and here for more details), and is evaluating a pre-service training model for kindergarten student teachers. Dr. Wolf is also co-Principle Investigator on a project partnering with the Jacobs Foundation and Ministry of Education in Cote d’Ivoire evaluating Eduq+, a program designed to increase parental awareness to engage parents in their child’s education. Dr. Wolf has previously worked on two additional evaluations of school-based teacher training interventions in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In addition, Dr. Wolf studies the links between poverty, anti-poverty policies, and child development in both the United States and in low-income countries. She studies the interplay between household economic hardship and school quality in shaping children’s development.


Ph.D. (Applied Psychology) New York University, 2014

B.A. (Psychology) University of Pennsylvania, 2006

Areas of Expertise

Poverty and child development

Risk and resilience

Early childhood education

School readiness

Teacher professional development

Program evaluation

Selected Publications

Wagner, D.A., Wolf, S., & Boruch, RF. (Eds.) (2018). Learning at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Science, measurement and policy in low-income countries in an era of global change. Paris: UNESCO-IIEP.

Wolf, S., Aber, J.L., Behrman, J.R., & Tsinigo, E. (accepted). Experimental impacts of the Quality Preschool for Ghana interventions on teacher professional well-being, classroom quality, and children’s school readiness. Journal of Research in Educational Effectiveness.

Halpin, P.H., Wolf, S., Yoshikawa, H.Y., Rojas, N., Kabay, S., Pisani, L., & Dowd, A.J. (accepted). Measuring early learning and development across cultures:  Invariance of the IDELA across five countries. Developmental Psychology.

Wolf, S., Raza, M., Kim, S., Aber, J.L, Behrman, J., & Seidman, E. (2018). Measuring process quality in pre-primary classrooms in Ghana using the Teacher Instructional Practices and Processes System (TIPPS). Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 18-30.

Wolf, S. (2018). Impacts of Pre-Service Training and Coaching on Kindergarten Quality and Student Learning Outcomes in Ghana. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 59, 112-123. 

McCoy, D.C. & Wolf, S. (2018). Changes in classroom quality predict Ghanaian preschoolers' gains in academic and social-emotional skills. Developmental Psychology, 54(8), 1582-1599.

Wolf, S., Turner, L.L., Jukes, M.C., & Dubeck, M.M. (2018). Changing literacy instruction in Kenyan classrooms: Assessing pathways of influence to improved early literacy outcomes in the HALI intervention. International Journal of Educational Development, 62, 27-34.

Kabay, S., Wolf, S., & Yoshikawa, H. (2017). “So that his mind will open”: Parental perceptions of preschool in urbanizing GhanaInternational Journal of Educational Development, 57, 44-53.

Wolf, S., Magnuson, K., & Kimbro, R. T. (2017). Family poverty and neighborhood poverty: Links with children’s school readiness before and after the Great RecessionChild and Youth Services Review, 79, 368-384.

Wolf, S., & Morrissey, T. (2017). Examining the Intersections of Economic Instability, Food Insecurity, and Child Health in the Wake of the Great RecessionSocial Service Review, 91(3).  

Wolf, S., & McCoy, D. C. (2017). Household Socioeconomic Status and Parental Investments: Direct and Indirect Relations with School Readiness in GhanaChild Development.

Wolf, S., Halpin, P., Yoshikawa, H., Pisani, L., Dowd, A., & Borisova, I. (2017). Measuring school readiness globally: Assessing the construct validity and measurement invariance of the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA) in EthiopiaEarly Childhood Research Quarterly, 40, 21-36.

Morris, P. A., Aber, J. L., Wolf, S., & Berg, J. (2017). Impacts of Family Rewards on adolescents' mental health and problem behavior: Understanding the full range of effects of a conditional cash transfer programPrevention Science, 18(3), 326-336. 

Aber, J.L, Torrente, C., Starkey, L., Johnston, B., Seidman, E., Halpin, P.F., Shivshanker, A., Weisenhorn, N., Annan, J., & Wolf, S. (2017). Impacts after one year of “Healing Classroom” on children's reading and math skills in DRC: Results from a cluster randomized trialJournal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(3), 507-529.  

Jukes, M. C. H., Turner, E. L., Dubeck, M. M., Halliday, K. E., Inyega, H. N., Wolf, S., Zuilkowski, S. S., Brooker, S. J. (2017). Improving literacy instruction in Kenya through teacher professional development and text messages support: A cluster randomized trial. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(3), 449-481.

Aber, J. L., Tubbs, C., Torrente, C., Halpin, P. F., Johston, B., Starkey, L., Shivashanker, A., Annan, J., Seidman, E., & Wolf, S. (2017). Promoting children’s learning in conflict-affected countries: Evidence for multilevel change processes in a school-based universal social-emotional learning program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Development & Psychopathology, 29(1), 53-67. 

Aber, J. L., Morris, P. A., Wolf, S., & Berg, J. (2016). The impact of holistic conditional cash transfers on parental financial investment, student time use and educational processes and outcomes. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 9(3)334-363.

Wolf, S., McCoy, D. C., & Godfrey, E. B. (2016). Barriers to school attendance and gender inequality: Empirical evidence from a sample of Ghanaian schoolchildren. Research in Comparative and International Education, 11(2)178-193.

Godfrey, E. B. & Wolf, S. (2016). Developing critical consciousness or justifying the system? A qualitative analysis of attributions for poverty and wealth among low-income racial/ethnic minority and immigrant women. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(1),93–103. 

Wolf, S., Torrente, C., Frisoli, P., Weisenhorn, N., Shivshaker, A., Annan, J., & Aber, J. L. (2015). Preliminary impacts of a professional development intervention on teacher wellbeing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Teaching and Teacher Education, 51,24–36.

Lowenstein, A., Wolf, S., Raver, C. C., Gershoff, E. T., Sexton, H. & Aber, J. L. (2015). Measuring school context across time and place: Results from the ECLS-KJournal of School Psychology, 53(4),323–225. 

Wolf, S., Aber, J. L. & Morris, P. M. (2015). Patterns of time use among low-income minority adolescents and associations with academic outcomes and problem behaviorsJournal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(6),1208–1225.

Wolf, S., Aber, J. L., Torrente, C., McCoy, M. & Rasheed, D. (2015). Cumulative risk and teacher well-being in the Democratic Republic of the CongoComparative Education Review, 59(4), 717–742.

Gennetian, L. A., Wolf, S., Morris, P. A. & Hill, H. H. (2015). Intra-year household income instability and adolescent school behavior. Demography, 52(2),455–483.

Wolf, S., Gennetian, L. A., Morris, P. M. & Hill, H. H. (2014). Patterns of income instability among low- and middle-income households with childrenFamily Relations, 63(3),397–410. 

McCoy, D. C., Wolf, S. & Godfrey, E. B. (2014). Student motivation, parental attitudes toward education, and academic achievement in a Ghanaian school sampleSchool Psychology International, 35(3), 294–308.

Hill, H., Gennetian, L., Morris, P., Wolf, S., & Tubbs, C. (2013). The consequences of income instability for child well-beingChild Development Perspectives, 7(2), 85–90.

Wolf, S., Aber, J. L., & Morris, P. A. (2013). Drawing on psychological theory to understand and improve antipoverty policies: The case of Conditional Cash TransfersPsychology, Public Policy, and Law, 19(1), 3–14.

Godfrey, E. B., Osher, D., Williams, L., Wolf, S., Berg, J., Torrente, C., Spier, E. & Aber, J. L. (2012)Cross-national measurement of school learning environments: Creating indicators for evaluating UNICEF’s Child Friendly Schools Initiative. Child and Youth Services Review, 34(3),546–557.