Improving outcomes for children: early childhood data systems

Recently, New America wrote an interesting blog about a national survey conducted by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC). The Collaborative is working to encourage state collection and use of early childhood data to improve existing programs and inform policy making decisions.  ECDC surveyed 48 states and the District of Columbia in the fall 2010 to track state progress toward building and using coordinated state ECE data systems.  States vary widely in their collection and use of data and only a handful of states have been identified  as using early childhood data well according to the ECDC, including Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Child Trends has been partnering with Maryland and a consortia of research advisors in this state to develop a research agenda for analyzing linked state data related to early childhood, including child care licensing, credentialing, and accreditation data; child care subsidy data; and the portfolio-based Maryland Model for School Readiness kindergarten school readiness assessments.

Unfortunately, most states cannot answer basic questions about the young children who are served by a number of publicly-funded programs, the quality of programs children are in, or the impact of their early care experiences on later life outcomes. Without such data it is difficult for states to sustain and track the impact of public funding and target resources efficiently.

ECDC recommends, in order to assess how well children’s needs during early childhood are being met, that states develop strong data systems capable of answering the following questions:

  1. Are children, birth to age 5, on track to succeed when they enter school and beyond?
  2. Which children have access to high-quality early care and education programs?
  3. Is the quality of programs improving?
  4. What are the characteristics of effective programs?
  5. How prepared is the early care and education workforce to provide effective education and care for all children?
  6. What policies and investments lead to a skilled and stable early care and education workforce?

In December 2010, Child Trends developed a brief that outlined how to develop appropriate indicators to assess programs for children age birth-5 years. Early childhood indicators can provide point-in-time information and trends over time, related to specific aspects of child well-being, and can be used to inform policymakers about either the need for programs, or the apparent effects (or lack thereof) of existing efforts.

-David Murphey
Senior Research Scientist

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