Culture of Continuous Learning Project: Theory of Change

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodMar 17 2020

Making and sustaining quality improvements in early care and education (ECE) programs is a persistent challenge.1 While state quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) successfully engage some programs and support progression in program quality levels, achieving sustained changes in practices that promote children’s social and emotional learning and improved language and cognitive skills is difficult.2,3,4 Even when training, coursework, and coaching are directed at specific teaching practices, it is challenging for practitioners to apply new knowledge in their daily work. Contextual factors such as staff turnover, staffing shortages, and organizational structures that are not aligned with best practices (e.g., lack of paid planning time, few opportunities for reflective practice, ineffective or nonexistent organizational policies) are frequently observed in ECE programs.5,6 Policymakers and practitioners are seeking new strategies to support improvement that can be tailored for and tested in the unique context of ECE settings. The Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OPRE/ACF/HHS) funded the Culture of Continuous Learning (CCL) Project to address this critical need in the field.

Project: Culture of Continuous Learning Project



1. Tout, K., Epstein, D., Soli, M., & Lowe, C. (2015). A blueprint for early care and education quality improvement initiatives: Final report. Minneapolis, MN: Child Trends.

2. Bierman, K., Sanford DeRousie, R., Heinrichs, B., Domitrovich, C., Greenberg, M, & Gill, S. (2013). Sustaining High Quality Teaching and Evidence-based Curricula: Follow-up Assessment of Teachers in the REDI Project. Early education development, 24(8),

3. Kane, M., Lowe, C., Tout, K., & Warner-Richter, M. (2018). Reflections on a Decade of Child Care Quality Improvement: Learning from Success by 6. Minneapolis, MN: Child Trends.

4. Tout, K., Cleveland, J., Li, W., Starr, R., Soli, M., & Bultinck, E. (2016). The Parent Aware Evaluation: Initial Validation Report. Minneapolis, MN: Child Trends.

5. Whitebook, M. McLean, C., & Austin, L.J.E. (2016). Early Childhood Workforce Index – 2016. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley.

6. Whitebook, M., & Sakia, L. (2003). Turnover begets turnover: An examination of job and occupational instability among child care center staff. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18(3), 273-293