Improving Early Childhood Education

Framing the Options and Imperatives for State Action Policy Brief

Published Date : April 1, 2004

Across the nation, early childhood education and care has suffered from poorly organized service delivery systems, inadequate funding, and insufficient attention by the policymakers. The result is a complicated system plagued by competing interests that is in need of reform and alignment. The field’s capacity to meet the needs of children and families has been diminished by unresolved governance questions, and improving governance is an important first step toward eliciting stronger program outcomes such as heightened quality and broader access for children. Given parents’ growing demand for expanded services and schools’ heightened expectations for Kindergarten preparedness, improvement of early childhood service delivery is an imperative that states can no longer choose to ignore.

Nationally, the issue of improving access and quality of early childhood education services is gaining momentum. A growing body of research demonstrates the importance of early care and learning experiences for children’s cognitive and social development and links quality preschool experiences to higher academic achievement in later years. Further, economists note the importance of early education and care options for improving a region’s overall quality of life and prospects for economic development. State leaders are increasingly acknowledging the role of policy in improving the delivery and quality of early education services and are making change in this area a priority.

Massachusetts policy makers have begun to demonstrate a commitment to confronting and helping resolve the complex challenges that face the early childhood education system in the state. This brief has been designed as background information for use in the policy dialogue on early childhood education.

This brief is the product of a secondary analysis of existing data and research on governance in early childhood services across the nation and within the Commonwealth. The review of research was complemented by interviews with key stakeholders and early childhood education leaders in Massachusetts as well as leaders from other states. The Massachusetts Early Education and Care Council Report, as well as testimony at a legislative task force meeting on early childhood issues also informed this policy brief.

In order to provide a range of options for policy makers, we profiled three distinctly different approaches, rather than attempting to determine the “best” systems in existence. The three options that we examined in this brief, include:

  • Creating a state-level public-private partnership as has been accomplished in North Carolina and other states
  • Establishing a new state agency or board like Georgia’s Office of School Readiness
  • Installing an interagency oversight committee that connects the multiple agencies currently managing early education and care services in the state

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