The NCSL Blog


By Andrew Barton

Early learning governance, best practices and the impact on the workforce were the highlights of  NCSL’s Early Learning Program’s recent meeting.

Students raising handsThe event included presentations from NCSL policy staff and experts in early learning research and program implementation. Visit NCSL’s YouTube channel to watch the recording and check out any other meetings.

Lori Connors-Tadros, a senior research fellow at the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER), began with a discussion on notable findings from the report "Effective State Offices of Early Learning; Structural Features, Enabling Conditions and Key Functions in Four States."

The report was a case study of effective early learning governance models in four states (Alabama, Michigan, New Jersey and West Virginia) determined by performance on metrics tracked in the NIEER Yearbook. A focus of the report was how an enabling environment (i.e., a supportive legislature, state leadership, public will and adequate funding) is necessary for developing high quality early learning programs in any given state.

Connors-Tadros emphasized how a government structure that gives sufficient authority to program leadership and keeps quality care at the center of operations is key to developing quality education programs. Additionally, an enabling environment that encourages senior state agency staff to collaborate and builds coalitions of early education advocates in the legislature was found to be crucial. For more information on early learning policies and practices, see the report from the BUILD Initiative and Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes.

Clayton Burch, West Virginia’s state superintendent of schools, shared lessons learned from his state’s work with early learning governance. He focused on the role of state agencies in supporting effective, quality early childhood programs.

In a state with limited resources like West Virginia, Burch focused on providing a universal preschool system and high-quality K-3 system. The success of this goal, he stated, was the involvement of the legislature as well as education advocates and experts in workshopping and shaping the new programs. Burch also highlighted the importance of data collection and analysis to improve education programs.

As more data has come out, it has been integral to the increased adoption of teacher assistance for P-3 classrooms and improved early education methods. Burch also stressed the importance of taking a long-term approach in systems change and being realistic about goal setting along the way. For example, at the start of the universal prekindergarten program in West Virginia workforce shortages made it impossible to expect every lead teacher to have a bachelor’s degree, and so it was not required. However, over the next decade, the state has made significant progress on the number of lead teachers with bachelor’s degrees.

The meeting concluded with a brief breakout session where participants discussed their states respective models of governance of early learning programs, how effective they viewed them and potential strategies that could be implemented to improve early education programs.

Be sure to check out additional resources and information on NCSL's Building a Strong Early Learning workforce webpage. And please join NCSL on Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. ET for the next installment: Lessons From Our Providers. Register here.

Andrew Barton has interned with NCSL’s Education and Fiscal Affairs programs.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.