Early Childhood Opinion

Report Underscores Disconnect in Early Childhood Data

By Sara Mead — March 14, 2011 1 min read
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An important new report from the Early Childhood Data Collaborative is the first to provide a comprehensive overview of the state of state data systems for early childhood care and education.

There is some good news here: States are actually collecting a lot of data on early childhood education programs and participating children. And a majority of states are linking data from state pre-k and early childhood special education programs with their K-12 data system.

But there are also critical data gaps, particularly around the early childhood workforce and child outcomes in early childhood programs. And states are doing a particularly poor job of linking data across various existing programs, particularly those run by different state agencies. Only one state, Pennsylvania, links child and site-level data across all programs, and no state links teacher/workforce data across all programs.

Most critically, none of the 50 states has a data system that enables it to answer critical policy questions, such as “are children 0-5 on track to succeed when they enter school and beyond?” and “is the quality of early childhood programs improving?”

These are serious issues. In particular, as states are in a budget-cutting environment, a lack of solid data on the effectiveness of early childhood programs in improving children’s developmental outcomes or preparing them to succeed in school undermines efforts to make the case for early childhood investments. The Obama administration’s proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund would have provided funding and incentives specifically for states to address these data issues and build more integrated data systems. But the current political and budgetary climate make passage of the program unlikely. The organizations participating in the Early Childhood Data Collaborative deserve credit for putting down a marker for what the features of quality state early childhood data systems should look like, as well as bringing solid data to bear on the question of where they are now.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.