Washington, DC and Palo Alto, CA — Early education has emerged as a critical issue for state policymakers, who spent nearly $7 billion on programs in 2015-16 for our youngest learners—a 12% increase over the prior year. But despite considerable research on the elements of high-quality preschool and its role in advancing equitable educational opportunities, policymakers have limited information on how to ensure that their investments yield exceptional early learning opportunities.
A new report by the Learning Policy Institute, The Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Lessons from the States, fills this information gap by describing and analyzing how four states—Michigan, North Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia—have built high-quality early education systems at scale. It also identifies key takeaways for all policymakers looking to expand and deepen access to high-quality preschool. It is authored by Marjorie Wechsler, David L. Kirp, Titilayu Tinubu Ali, Madelyn Gardner, Anna Maier, Hanna Melnick, and Patrick M. Shields
“Although many studies show that high-quality preschool returns $7 to $10 for every dollar invested, the research shows that it is not so easy to create high-quality preschool at scale, and not all programs reap these benefits,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute. “This study looks deeply at how governments can design and implement programs that pay off for their children and their state.”
Prioritize quality and continuous improvement. Recognizing the critical role of program quality in achieving positive child outcomes, each of the states has invested in strategies to monitor and improve its early education programs.
Invest in training and coaching for teachers. These four states place heavy emphasis on boosting the quality of preschool teachers, focusing on strengthening their credentials and their productive interactions with students.
Coordinate the administration of birth-through-grade-3 programs. Pre-k historically has been kept entirely separate from k-12, but these four states are seeking to create a seamless educational experience, aligning what is taught and how it is taught from preschool through elementary school and beyond.
Strategically combine multiple funding sources to increase access and improve quality. Adequate resources are essential to assuring high-quality early education. While these four states depend primarily on state dollars as the main revenue source for early education, they also help providers integrate federal and local funding.
Create broad-based coalitions and support. Launching a high-quality early education initiative—or building a bigger and better program—is hard work. These four states relied on broad-based support to advance their efforts.
The States in a Nutshell:
Michigan offers high-quality prekindergarten that is targeted for low-income children. It has restructured program administration to facilitate coordination across the early care and education system and made program-improvement strategies routine.
North Carolina offers a “one-stop shop” at the local level, providing an array of birth-to-five services for low-income families. The state pioneered the development of a quality rating system and supports teachers to build their skills through training and salary supplements.
Washington follows the Head Start model, offering a range of wraparound services to the state’s most vulnerable students. Through intensive coaching and rigorous standards, the state is improving home-based child care as a way to expand access to quality early education programs.
West Virginia makes preschool available to all 4-year-olds, paying for the program with general school aid dollars. It offers communities considerable autonomy in program design and evaluation, and requires collaboration across private providers, schools, and Head Start.
Notes report lead author Marjorie Wechsler, “Quality doesn’t just happen. You have to design for it, support it, and continually work for it, as these states have done. They’ve focused on quality through their attention to standards, by setting clear expectations for teachers’ knowledge and skills and supporting teachers to reach those expectations, and by establishing mechanisms for ongoing program improvement.”
The report was released at “The Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Lessons from the States,” a forum convened by the Learning Policy Institute, the Council for a Strong America, and the First Five Years Fund. Following the convening, we will post audio and video of the report launch on the event page.
Please click to download the report, brief, or one-page fact sheet. To download our earlier brief, “The Building Blocks of High-Quality Early Childhood Education Programs”, click here.
For more information or to arrange interviews with report authors or individuals from the four states, please contact Sue Dorfman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Learning Policy Institute
The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child.
Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness. More information is available at http://learningpolicyinstitute.org/.