State Legislators Study Early Education Research, Policy and Practice in the Music City

Jorge E. Casares 12/18/2019

Group photo of SPREE group

NCSL’s bipartisan working group of state legislators, legislative staff, and early learning researchers from around the country reconvened in Nashville, Tenn., to hear from leading early learning experts on how states can increase access to and better integrate existing early learning systems. The State Policy and Research for Early Education (SPREE) working group was formed in 2016 with the support of the Heising-Simons Foundation.

After spending the week at NCSL’s 2019 Legislative Summit this past August, SPREE members sat down with Linda Smith from the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., to discuss how states can design  their early education systems to accommodate an increasing number of pupils while still providing effective services through different funding sources. Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute joined us to provide an overview of their research on the Tennessee Pre-K Program’s effectiveness, and its implications for policymakers as they continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of programs in their states.

To kick off our second day, SPREE visited the Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center, one of three “child- and family-centered public preschool[s]” created through a collaboration between the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute (PRI). Developed with a mission to improve the availability of quality early learning opportunities for children, the centers use data-driven processes to inform the way they teach. SPREE members witnessed students engaged in child-centered inquiry and enrichment activities, such as outdoor classrooms and garden-based lessons provided by Plant the Seed. One such development is the Magic 8, a list of classroom practices that seek to improve each child’s academic and self-regulation outcomes.

In a conversation with Barbara Smith of the University of Denver that followed the visits, the group discussed how multi-tiered student supports can help improve the social, emotional, and behavioral competence of our early learners. Our final speaker, Steven Hernández of the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, explained how the commission has worked to break down existing silos so that children and their families can succeed together through coordinated stakeholder efforts.

Finally, participants discussed major early learning trends in their states and around the country. And as we looked ahead to the 2020 early learning summit, the work group revisited the SPREE Framework outlined in the group’s 2018 report, highlighting what they learned through the content sessions and what more needs to be done.

You can find preschool through third grade legislation, research and resources on NCSL’s Early Learning and Support webpage.

Jorge E. Casares is a research analyst in NCSL’s Education Program.

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