With heightened accountability for K-12 student achievement, states have become increasingly interested in developing comprehensive and integrated early childhood systems, with most serving ages birth through five. According to a recent in-depth review of the experiences of three states — Georgia, Massachusetts, and Ohio — in developing a major early childhood initiative, there are several key challenges to overcome in building a coordinated early childhood system. These include: (1) developing a comprehensive vision that includes school readiness, (2) merging funding streams while addressing their regulatory differences, (3) coordinating delivery systems with components that have separate administrators, missions and programs, and (4) tracking progress and measuring the results.(57)
Few supports are available to help states meet the challenges of developing coordinated approaches to early childhood education. However, states are seeking mechanisms that will support their efforts to build more coordinated and effective early childhood systems. Several new approaches have emerged that show states’ dedication to moving forward with a more comprehensive approach to offering early childhood education programs that will ensure that children are safe, healthy and school ready.
As part of the President’s Good Start, Grow Smart initiative, states were asked to report in their Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) 2003 Biennial State Plans on the progress they are making in the implementation of early learning guidelines, professional development of child care providers and coordination across early childhood programs. State plans report that significant progress has been made in building early childhood systems. All 32 states with developed or implemented guidelines included the competencies in the areas of language, literacy and numeracy, and 31 of those also addressed social and emotional development. States that have successfully developed and implemented early learning guidelines found that it took time to develop trust and good communication among partners, e.g., state departments of education, Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs, resource and referral agencies, child care providers, and parents. While Good Start, Grow Smart specifically addresses the development of language, pre-reading, and numeracy skills in three to five-year-olds, some states have developed early learning guidelines that address the range of developmental domains including social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and physical. Similarly, to ensure that efforts to improve the school readiness of three to five-year-olds do not have unintended negative consequences for younger children, some States have chosen to develop guidelines that span from birth to age five.
A. Some states are working to develop early childhood education systems
- National Association of State Boards of Education, Early Childhood Education Network
With funding from the Foundation for Child Development,the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) initiated an effort in March 2001 to help states increase their ability to create integrated, high quality early childhood education policies, and programs and services to support school achievement for children with and without disabilities.(58) The framework emphasizes quality standards to ensure readiness to learn, comprehensive and integrated early education services, a results-based orientation that involves data management systems, professional development, structures to increase access and equity, and funding approaches that maximize resources.
With foundation funding, the NASBE Early Childhood Education Network provided seed grants to six states. Though the grant amounts were small, they allowed states to move forward with plans for developing a comprehensive and integrated early childhood education system and to evaluate the results. For example,
- Wyoming worked to develop a data collection system to support systems building and to collect baseline data using a kindergarten readiness survey that will be used, in part, to configure the delivery of professional development in the state.
- Louisiana created an interagency group to develop a long-term vision for early childhood education.
- Kansas activities focused in part on developing a common definition of school readiness across agencies that administer early childhood programs, and developing and implementing a single set of standards and indicators for Head Start programs, child care, and services and programs provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).(59)
- Illinois formed a committee that included state education board members, representatives from Head Start, the Department of Child and Family Services, and the state Department of Health and Human Services. The committee worked together to determine how best to support and expand services for children with disabilities.
- Massachusetts assessed how preschool and child care initiatives interface with Parts B and C of IDEA . The state is working to broaden its vision of a comprehensive early childhood education system to include private daycare and other providers and to expand its concept of comprehensive infrastructure to include children with and without disabilities.(60)
- Ohio conducted a hearing under the Commissioner of Education to highlight issues central to providing quality education and care services to children with and without disabilities.
The hearing will be the basis for an iterative process of formulating state policy and coordinating early childhood initiatives across programs, such as providing technical assistance and training to all Head Start, preschool, and child care providers who serve young children with special needs.
- Trust for Early Education
The Trust for Early Education (TEE) was founded in 2002 with a multi-million dollar grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, which remains the primary sponsor.(61) The goal of the TEE is to help every child, regardless of income or background, gain access to a high quality pre-kindergarten education. A primary focus of their efforts is supporting collaborations to develop comprehensive early childhood education systems. For example, TEE awarded a planning grant to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to support a partnership between DPI and the early childhood community. Wisconsin offers school districts the option of providing four-year-old kindergarten. Almost half of the school districts operate kindergartens with a growing number of districts interested in collaborating with child care and Head Start. Expanding collaborative approaches to preschool is a top priority. With the planning grant, the partnership will: (1) study the communities that have successful collaborative preschool programs; (2) share models with remaining school districts; and (3) build public support for expanding collaborative approaches.
As part of their broader work in early childhood, the Pew Charitable Trusts supports a network of nonprofit organizations in a small number of states in developing effective policies to create systems of early education.(62) Funds go to states with a history of investment in early education, and leaders interested in working toward universal, voluntary early education.
- Council of Chief State School Officers
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has embarked on a set of actions under the Early Childhood and Family Education Initiative to improve coordination across early childhood programs, the quality of early childhood education, and access to pre-kindergarten. The Initiative stems from the Council’s policy statement on early childhood and family education, which was adopted unanimously in 1999 and conveys the Council’s commitment to ensuring that every child has the opportunity for high quality early care and education and to supporting school systems in each state in reaching high standards of performance and preparing each child to succeed as a productive member of a democratic society. The project is supported by a $240,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and includes the following activities.
- The Building a Cadre of Champions project is designed to promote leadership for quality early childhood education among its member superintendents and commissioners. The CCSSO is enlisting a group of chief state school officers with strong records of support for early education to oversee and advise the project and to serve as national, regional, and state spokespersons for expanded quality and access to early childhood education.
- The CCSSO is developing a communications strategy that includes producing and disseminating evidence-based reports, research, and resources on early education through a variety of print and electronic media. The materials emphasize key issues affecting early education, and profiles of effective state policies, practices, and individual efforts to link preschool with the K-12 system.
- The Early Childhood Education Assessment (ECEA) Consortium, initiated in 2000, works to give decision makers guidance on appropriate assessment systems to support high quality learning opportunities for young children. The consortium’s focus is on early learning and developmental outcomes, appropriate assessment, program evaluation, and using data for system accountability. The consortium assists states in addressing issues related to the development of children from birth through age eight years, and delivers this information to educators, caregivers, policy makers, parents, and the general public. Participants include state assessment and early childhood staff, representatives from key early childhood education organizations, researchers, and expert consultants from the field.
- The Mid-Atlantic Early Childhood Education Network is the result of collaboration between the CCSSO and the Temple University’s Mid-Atlantic Laboratory for Student Success (LSS). The principal focus of this collaboration is to strengthen the capacity of state education agencies to foster state and local early childhood education-elementary school partnerships in the Mid-Atlantic region. The broader goal is to promote universal access to quality early childhood programs for all three and four-year-olds. The network supports five states in planning early learning systems and developing local partnerships that promote learning and increase the public’s understanding of research evidence on the importance of quality early childhood education to children’s school and life outcomes.
- The CCSSO provides technical assistance to the School Readiness Indicators Initiative. This 17-state project spearheaded by Rhode Island Kids Count is developing state-based indicators of school readiness with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.State teams work individually and as a group to develop a comprehensive set of measures to monitor school readiness and service system outcomes for children and families. National meetings of states’ team representatives provide support on developing indicators, resolving conceptual, data and technology issues, and developing communications strategies. Residency roundtables, which involve state leaders and field experts, are convened two to four times a year to focus on the most pressing conceptual challenges.
- National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures provide ongoing support through a variety of activities to assist governors and legislators in building early childhood capacity. Projects and activities help build state capacity, provide technical assistance and build leadership.(63)
B. Some states have comprehensive systems initiatives that target school readiness
Some states are undertaking the development of comprehensive early childhood systems that focus on providing high quality early childhood education that links children to essential services needed to promote school readiness. During the past five years, there has been an increase in the number of states developing initiatives to create early childhood systems that address children’s educational, health, and family support needs, as opposed to developing targeted programs or services that focus on only one of these areas.(64)
In developing these systems, states have recognized that developing the language and cognitive skills, social competencies, and physical and emotional health needed for school preparedness begins at birth. Instead of focusing exclusively on three- to four-year-olds, most of these approaches strive for integrated and comprehensive early education and service systems that begin at birth and continue at least through age five. In addition, states are using data from varied sources to inform the design and operation of their programs in order to best meet the needs of the children and families served and to evaluate the results of their efforts.
In 1998, California passed the California Children and Families Act as a result of a statewide referendum known as Proposition 10. The initiative emphasizes the development of an integrated, comprehensive, and collaborative system of information and services for young children and their families. According to state statute, programs should emphasize community awareness, education, child care, social services, health care, and research. The California Children and Families Commission, called First 5 California, provides statewide leadership for the initiative. The Commission funds research projects and model programs, supports a public education campaign, and works with county-level commissions.
Revenues for funding the entire initiative, raised from tobacco taxes, totaled about $690 million in FY 2000 and $626 million in FY 2001; 80% of funds go to the county commissions to meet locally identified needs. On average, in FY 2001 local commissions distributed 15% of their funds, totaling $26,694,394, to support systems change efforts that involve developing county-level capacity to provide integrated, effective, and consumer-oriented systems.
The Commission adopted school readiness as its overarching goal, with the signature project being a $400 million school readiness initiative. The “Essential and Coordinated Elements” required for every School Readiness Program includes: early care and education with transition strategies, parenting and family support services including literacy and parenting skills, health and social services, and targeted school readiness activities that include early childhood and kindergarten standards and curriculum.
State statute requires an evaluation to determine the impact of the First 5 California Children and Families funds, including assessments of funds expended and progress toward achieving goals and objectives. Other data are used to design and implement the initiative. For example:
- Effectiveness studies are being conducted on funded products and programs, such as a Kit for New Parents, and programs to train and retain early care and education staff.
- A Geographic Information System maps risk factors, resources, and information at both the state and county levels. The information is used to identify complex relationships between community problems and available resources and to integrate information from different sources to produce a more holistic picture of the environments where California children live.
- The California Health Survey provides population-based state and local health data and is the largest state survey ever conducted in the U.S.
- The First 5 California Commission uses research to inform the development of their initiatives. For example, it commissioned research reviews to inform the development of home visitation programs that support school readiness and to identify promising programs and practices in early care, education, family, and community support.
In 2000, legislation created and funded KIDS (Kentucky Invests in Developing Success) NOW, an early childhood initiative to address children’s health, safety, and school readiness needs. KIDS NOW supports a range of maternal and child health, family support, and early care and education services. An Early Childhood Development Authority provides oversight and allocates funds to local community councils. A Business Council of local leaders promotes investments in early childhood and a Professional Development Council works to create an education and training system for early care and education providers. The strategy is to build on existing resources, foster public-private partnerships, ensure collaborative planning and implementation, and mobilize communities to implement this comprehensive services program. The initiative is funded with 25% of Kentucky’s Phase 1 Tobacco Settlement dollars, which are expected to total $56 million across two years. A team of researchers from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville are conducting an evaluation of KIDS NOW, though data are not yet available. The evaluation will include information about the characteristics of the children and families served, broad indicators of child and family experiences and outcomes, and details on the characteristics of centers in selected communities.
- North Carolina
North Carolina has implemented a variety of strategies to build an effective early care and education system for children from birth to the kindergarten entry.
Smart Start(67) is a public-private partnership that provides funding for comprehensive community-based early childhood education and services and supports collaboration at both the state and local levels. Smart Start began as a governor’s initiative and was established in statute in 1993. Funding for Smart Start reached $220 million in 2001, but was reduced to $190 million in FY 2002-2003. More than $200 million in private contributions has been raised since the program began. Smart Start funds are administered at the local level through local nonprofit organizations. The primary goal of Smart Start has been to ensure that all children enter school healthy and prepared to succeed.
The first round of awards were given to 12 partnerships (18 counties), and since 1997 all 100 counties in North Carolina have received Smart Start funds, either as a single-county partnership or as part of a multiple-county partnership. By legislative mandate, partnerships spend at least 70% of their funds on child care.
Non-experimental evaluations focusing on three and four-year-olds in Smart Start have been conducted by researchers at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.(68) Overall, findings for Smart Start show that the quality of center-based child care improved in centers that received Smart Start funding, and that children who attended better quality centers entered school with significantly better skills.(69) Specifically,
- Teacher ratings of school readiness for children from low-income families who attended Smart Start Centers were significantly higher than for children from low-income families who had attended other centers.
- Compared with children who had no previous child care experience, children who attended Smart Start Centers had higher teacher ratings of school readiness.
- Children who attended Smart Start Centers that had focused on making child care quality improvements, such as enhanced subsidies for higher child care quality, higher teacher education, license upgrades, on-site technical assistance, quality improvement, and facility grants, had higher teacher school readiness ratings than children who attended non-Smart Start programs.(70)
- Direct assessments of children showed that children who attended Smart Start Centers had better cognitive and language skills. Teacher ratings of children’s behavior showed fewer behavioral problems compared to children in centers that did not participate in Smart Start.
With funding from the Packard Foundation, Smart Start has established an office to provide technical assistance to other states that are showing extensive interest in designing similar initiatives. North Carolina’s More at Four pre-kindergarten program complements Smart Start by targeting at-risk four-year-olds and providing a high quality program of standards-driven, research-based educational pre-kindergarten. Each of the state’s early childhood programs, including Head Start, child care, Smart Start, and More at Four, aims to link its funding, delivery systems and programming with the others to enhance cooperation and provide better services to children.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are evaluating More at Four, though results are not yet available. To inform the More at Four initiative, the researchers completed a nationwide 2000-2001 survey of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs associated with public schools to learn more about public school involvement in the other states.(71) Survey respondents, who were early childhood specialists in state departments of education, reported on the ages and numbers of children served, eligibility, administrative location, physical location in the community, state expenditures per child, and state pre-kindergarten program standards that include program duration, teacher-child ratio, class size, teacher qualifications, curriculum and accreditation, and services offered.
- South Carolina
Modeled directly after North Carolina’s Smart Start, South Carolina’s First Steps to School Readiness (First Steps) program is a state-level public/private collaboration that creates local partnerships to assess local needs and engage in comprehensive strategic planning to ensure that all children enter first grade healthy and ready to succeed.(72) The initiative was signed into law in June 1999 and is South Carolina’s major state early childhood initiative. As a community-driven effort, county partnership boards include representatives from businesses, faith-based and nonprofit organizations, education, health services, and parents of young children. The partnerships focus on issues, such as early education, health care, quality child care and transportation. Through collaboration, the initiative can better target and intensify critically needed services, assure efficiency of available resources, and eliminate duplicated efforts. Donors, which include business and foundation communities, have to date given more than $8 million.
Goals for First Steps, as stated in the enabling legislation, are to:
- give parents the support needed to strengthen families and support their children’s development;
- increase comprehensive services to reduce children’s risk for physical, developmental and learning problems;
- promote high quality preschool programs;
- provide services to ensure all children receive the protection, nutrition and health care needed to thrive and learn, and
- mobilize communities to enhance services for families and their young children that enable children to enter school healthy and ready to learn.
State statute mandates an external evaluation of the Fi·st Steps initiative.(73) Since the initiative is in the beginning stages, the first evaluation was designed to study the effectiveness of the implementation, with future studies to include information on child and family outcomes as the program matures. Primary goals of this first evaluation were to determine if First Steps had identified research-based best practices and implemented them effectively to serve the populations for which they were intended. The evaluation data revealed areas of strength and areas for improvement that the state will use to further develop First Step practices and procedures.
In addition to these states that are taking a comprehensive approach to building integrated early childhood systems, other states are taking incremental steps toward building early childhood systems. Examples of states include Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, and West Virginia.(74)