As a preschool leader overseeing statewide programs for 3- and 4-year-old children, you are committed to supporting children and families across the state. Your goals include equitably reaching those who need preschool services the most to ensure that they have positive experiences in your program. You want to support children’s transitions between classrooms and to kindergarten while equipping your staff to do their job well.
However, when you think about how to achieve these goals, you’re not sure where to begin. We’ve got you covered. The Early Childhood Data Collaborative at Child Trends is developing the System Transformation for Equitable Preschools (STEP Forward with Data) Framework, which helps leaders see how well the entire system serves children and families, especially those who have been marginalized by systemic inequities and/or racism (referred to in this blog as “focal populations”). Specifically, the Framework offers six steps at which you can examine your success in meeting the goals of your preschool system. It also enables all preschool leaders to reimagine how the entire system can improve access, experiences, and outcomes for children, families, and the workforce more broadly.
Here, we describe each of the six steps and offer a set of related questions by which you can assess your success by examining whether you’re meeting the needs of all children and families—particularly those from focal populations—and to identify clear action steps for meeting your goals.
Supply refers to both the quantity and quality of preschool programs across setting types that exist in the preschool system. Supply may include the geographic locations of existing programs, as well as differences in the types and quality of programs available in communities. Publicly funded preschool programs are equitable when they facilitate families’ access to preschool programs that meet their needs and preferences, particularly for families who have been marginalized by systemic inequities and/or racism.
Outreach means the processes and resources that inform families about the types of programs that their children are eligible to attend. Outreach may include the strategies used to let families know about existing programs. Publicly funded preschool programs are equitable when they develop policies and strategies that help all families learn about preschool eligibility and program options.
Enrollment encompasses the type of engagement families have with the preschool system to ensure that their children can sign up for and attend the programs of their choice. Enrollment may extend from the time families submit enrollment documentation to programs through the monitoring of children’s attendance in these programs. Publicly funded preschool programs are equitable when their processes ensure that enrollment activities support children and families in enrolling and consistently attending their preschool program of choice.
Learning Experiences are the factors that influence a child’s experience within their learning setting. Learning Experiences may include instructional activities; curricula or assessments; social interactions between staff, children, and families; classroom climate; or available materials used within the classroom. Publicly funded preschool programs are equitable when they celebrate the race, culture, language, or identities of children and families and when they offer resources that allow their workforce to provide an inclusive environment for children.
Transitions are the various ways in which a child or family may switch into, within, or out of the preschool system during a child’s early learning experience. Transitions may include switching between preschool classrooms or teachers, transitioning from one learning support to another, or moving up into kindergarten. Publicly funded preschool programs are equitable when they help children and families experience positive transitions—whether into, within, or out of the preschool system.
Administration entails the policies and infrastructure that facilitate how preschool systems operate. Administrative activities may include regulations applied to all programs in the system, available funding for programs, or systemwide trainings available to the workforce. Publicly funded preschool programs are equitable when they share leadership and decision making with families and workforce members, especially those from focal populations; are fully funded; build culturally and developmentally affirming policies; and retain a qualified and supported workforce.
The questions presented in this blog are a starting point for the System Transformation for Equitable Preschools (STEP Forward with Data) Framework. They will be accompanied by a set of goals, metrics, and recommended data sources meant to guide preschool leaders through a process by which they can use data to answer important questions to make impactful systemic changes. Click here to read more about the project.
Lin, Van-Kim. (2023). A data-driven approach to improve preschool system equity. Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/blog/a-data-driven-approach-to-improve-preschool-system-equity
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