The goal of this report was to determine whether there is evidence that states can meet the challenge of providing high quality, comprehensive early childhood education and whether states would be sufficiently dedicated to this effort.
The evidence reviewed in this report shows that selected states are already major providers and funders of pre-kindergarten program. Though there is great variation across states, most state-funded pre-kindergarten programs meet widely accepted and research-based quality standards, offer key expanded services to meet children’s health and nutrition needs, and involve parents in their children’s education. Existing research on the results of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs has technical limitations that constrain what can be known about the impact of state efforts on children’s outcomes. In addition, the studies were not designed to answer some critical questions, such as whether state-funded pre-kindergarten programs produce better outcomes than other programs serving similar populations or whether they reduce or eliminate achievement gaps. Taking into account these caveats, there is promising evidence that states can implement programs that produce positive outcomes in areas that include cognition, language, and academic achievement, with some positive outcomes, such as improved achievement test scores, reduced grade retention and school attendance, lasting into the elementary grades. In addition, several states are funding large-scale initiatives to build early childhood systems that serve children from birth through age five. With the assistance of private foundations and state-level organizations, states are seeking and receiving some of the support needed to eliminate barriers to coordination and make even greater strides toward integrating pre-kindergarten, child care, Head Start and programs targeting specific services such as health, safety, and nutrition, into comprehensive early childhood systems. In developing their state-funded pre-kindergarten programs and early childhood systems, some states are using research, conducting research, and building data systems to evaluate their results, design and operate their programs, and make improvements in their approaches. In conclusion, not all states may be qualified to undertake the administration of a coordinated and comprehensive early childhood education system that includes a strong evaluation component to measure results. However, the overall pattern of findings indicates that some states appear ready to meet this challenge.