Defining and Measuring Quality in Early Childhood Education

What's New

Early childhood education (ECE) has been and continues to be a priority for policymakers. Recently elected governors in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico all campaigned on expanding funding for high-quality pre-K programming in their states and, since the beginning of 2018 alone, 15 state legislatures have introduced or enacted bills to improve the accessibility of ECE programs. Cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and Detroit, are also working to expand access to ECE through universal pre-K programs. Yet, while the idea of expanding access to ECE opportunities has taken root nationwide, there is a growing consensus around the need to pair that growth in access with more rigorous expectations of quality. A recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found a diverse range of outcomes associated with large-scale, public pre-K programs and encouraged states to devote “increased attention to frequent, more rigorous, and broader evaluations of their pre-K programs.” To help broaden the education field’s understanding of high-quality ECE programming, The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and The Ounce of Prevention Fund recently developed and tested the Early Education Essentials Measurement System and identified six essential factors that contribute to high-quality ECE programming.  The UChicago Consortium and The Ounce also recently conducted a qualitative study to shed light on what strong, well-organized ECE programs look like and how educators can create better outcomes for young children.

Why It Matters

The demand for quality early child education is high—86 percent of Americans report they want it to be a national priority—and the estimated economic benefits are striking: according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, investments in early education generate approximately $7 for every dollar invested. In light of this, governors across the country are beginning to rally behind high-quality ECE programming as a lever for economic development, with the number of state-funded pre-K programs more than doubling in size over the past 15 years. However, there is a long way to go toward making more universal access to high-quality ECE programming a national norm with just 55 percent of American 3- and 4-year olds attending a formal preschool program.