Early Learning: Trends, Research and NCSL Groups



Early learning, focusing here on preschool-third grade, has been gaining attention from researchers, policymakers and the general public alike. News, research and resources will be updated every two weeks to provide links to articles related to preschool, school readiness, literacy development, early STEM, dual language learners, family engagement and more. (Content last updated March 4, 2021).

To view enacted 2020 Preschool-3rd grade legislation, click here to view our interactive bill tracker.

This page also includes links and resources related to early learning working groups led by NCSL: the State Policy and Research for Early Education (SPREE) Working Group, focusing on preschool-third grade issues; and the Early Childhood Fellows, led by the Children and Families Program, focusing on prenatal through age 5 issues.

Early Learning in the News

Early Learning Research

Early Learning Resources

Additional Resources:

State Policy and Research for Early Education (SPREE) Working Group

The NCSL State Policy and Research for Early Education Working Group, known as SPREE is a bipartisan group of eight state legislators, two legislative staff and six early learning experts from around the country. SPREE members deliberated and prioritized the top five principles of effective early learning systems, focusing specifically on the preschool through 3rd grade years (P-3).

The SPREE report discusses the importance of supporting children’s early development and closing the school readiness gap, caused by lack of educational opportunity, so each child can reach their full potential. The report also introduces the SPREE framework—the prioritized principles of early learning systems—including equity, high-quality P-3 education, governance, community and family engagement, and educator development. The report also provides policy strategies for each principle and legislative examples.

Overall, the SPREE report is designed to act as a touchstone in supporting state legislators to systematically discuss improvements to early learning systems in their states.

Advisory Group on Closing Early Learning Opportunity Gaps

Research demonstrates that African-American and Hispanic/Latino children enter kindergarten an average of 7-12 months behind in reading skills and 9-10 months behind in math skills, with even larger gaps existing for low-income students. These gaps often persist and expand as students move through their K-12 education, which impacts education systems, the workforce and state economies. With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, NCSL is working to support state legislators who choose to address opportunity gaps in early learning.

Early Childhood Fellows

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is pleased to continue facilitating an Early Learning Fellows program for state legislators and staff.

States have been leading efforts to improve the quality of child care, implementing preschool and innovative ways to support families with young children across the age spectrum from birth to kindergarten and into the early grades. They are also addressing challenges with governance, financing, data systems and teacher training/professional development.

We are pleased to offer a legislative Fellows program to legislators and legislative staff at no cost. NCSL’s Early Learning Fellows program is made possible by the Alliance for Early Success, Buffett Early Childhood Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Heising-Simons Foundation.