System Transformation for Equitable Preschools (STEP Forward with Data) Framework

Early ChildhoodJun 2 2022

For decades, policy efforts expanded access to and improved the quality of early learning experiences for 3- and 4-year-old children (i.e., preschool). However, due to the fragmented system that oversees publicly funded preschool, the field lacks cohesive data to inform policy efforts to strengthen and expand preschool in an equitable and inclusive way. Comprehensive data are critical to understand the accessibility, quality, and impact of preschool, especially for children and families who experience systemic and historical barriers to accessing high-quality preschool programs. A unifying data framework can bring the field together around common questions about preschool, and around ways to answer these questions with data in a consistent, equity-centered way.

The Early Childhood Data Collaborative at Child Trends, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is leading the development of the System Transformation for Equitable Preschools (STEP Forward with Data) Framework, which will provide this kind of unity and consistency in the field.

STEP Forward with Data Framework goals

The STEP Forward with Data Framework will help federal, state, territory, Tribal, and local preschool leaders:

  • Answer essential questions about their preschool systems, and specifically about populations that have been marginalized by racism and systemic inequities.
  • Establish standardized and consistent ways to collect, manage, and use data that address issues related to equity in preschool.
  • Assess data gaps and integration needs to support the use of preschool data.
  • Identify clear action steps for creating a more equitable preschool system based on the data they collect and the questions they are answering.

The Framework is being designed for publicly funded preschool educational programs that serve 3- and 4-year-old children. These programs include state-funded, locally funded, Head Start and Tribal preschool programs. We acknowledge that many children attend private preschool programs, or other types of early care settings. While the Framework focuses on publicly funded preschool, it is designed to be applied more broadly to other early childhood systems.

STEP Forward with Data Framework components

  • A list of essential questions to guide preschool data system design and inform data strategies to promote the creation and ongoing improvement of equitable preschool systems
  • A set of suggested metrics to answer essential systems questions and measure progress toward intended outcomes
  • An assessment to support prioritization for systems leaders to implement the Framework

Our approach

Over two years, the STEP Forward with Data Framework will be developed and informed via:

  • Continuous input from a national consortium representing a range of experts, including those who have the lived experiences of the populations highlighted in the Framework
  • A survey of preschool administrators about their states’ or territories’ data and systems capacity to implement the framework
  • Engagement of educators/practitioners, families, and state and community leaders to inform, learn from, and support the field around the need, development, and use of the Framework

The STEP Forward with Data Framework is slated for public release in Fall 2023.

If you have questions or would like to learn more, please email the project team at and someone will be in touch. For project updates and resources, please sign up to receive the ECDC Newsletter.

Consortium members

Susan Adams, deputy commissioner for Georgia Pre-K and instructional support, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning

Christine Alvarado, chief innovation officer, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project

Rachel Anderson, director, Policy and Research Strategy, Data Quality Campaign (DQC)

Lea Austin, director, Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE), Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), University of California, Berkeley

Tonia Durden, clinical associate professor, Birth through Five program coordinator, Georgia State University

Caroline Ebanks, early childhood team lead, National Center for Education Research (NCER), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), United Stated Department of Education

Karin Garver, early childhood education policy specialist, National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)

Richard Gonzales, director of interagency and special initiatives, Office of Child Care, Department of Health & Human Services/Administration for Children and Families (HHS/ACF)

Priscilla Hodge, operations and fiscal policy analyst, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Iheoma Iruka, founding director, Equity Research Action Coalition; faculty fellow, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Victoria Jones, senior director of data, National Head Start Association

Misty Moody, assistant commissioner of early learning, Tennessee Department of Education

Tony Ruggiero, education analyst, AEM Corporation

Michele Sarche, associate professor, Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, Department of Community and Behavioral Health, University of Colorado

Mandy Sorge, executive director, National Association of State Leaders in Early Education

Cindia Velasco, director of constituency services – education, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)

Albert Wat, senior policy director, Alliance for Early Success

Christina Weiland, associate professor, School of Education, University of Michigan


Data Is a Key Resource in Developing Equitable Pre-K Systems

Pre-K Data on Children, Families, and Workforce Members from Focal Populations Can Help Decision Makers Create More Equitable Systems

A Data-driven Approach to Improve Preschool System Equity

Additional publications will be posted here throughout the project.


This project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The development of the Framework does not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Principal investigators: Dale Richards, Carlise King

Project director: Joy Thompson

Consortium and Framework development team: Van-Kim Bui Lin, Silvana Esposito Hackett, Ja’Chelle Ball, Shana Rochester

Data capacity survey team: Sara Amadon, Ja’Chelle Ball, Gabriella Guerra, Emily Maxfield, Katie Richards, Jing Tang, Kara Ulmen

Engagement and dissemination team: Elizabeth Jordan, Meg Bredeson, Kehinde Akande

Race equity lead: Porsche Boddicker-Young