To help states develop accountability approaches that will enhance pre-kindergarten program effectiveness, The Pew Charitable Trusts today launched the National Early Childhood Accountability Task Force, comprised of leading experts in child development, early education and state policy. “There is a growing consensus that pre-kindergarten programs are an investment worth making, but state leaders are seeking better ways to use standards and assessments to uplift program quality and accelerate progress for children,” said Sue Urahn, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' State Policy and Education program. “Policy makers want to be good stewards of public dollars, but they also want to use measurement tools that are appropriate for three- and four-year olds. Ultimately, the Accountability Task Force will help ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a pre-k program that we know works.”
The Task Force, chaired by Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan, Professor and Associate Dean at Columbia University's Teachers College, will issue recommendations by January 2007. The recommendations will provide guidance to states in setting standards, assessing programs and children and using results to help programs do an even better job in helping children succeed. The effort is supported by a new funding partnership among the Foundation for Child Development, the Joyce Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Over the past two years, states have increased their funding for preschool by over half a billion dollars. In 2004, 11 governors endorsed increases in state pre-k spending; in 2005, 19 did so. At the same time, few if any states have built a system to connect outcome standards with assessments of program performance. Even fewer have defined how assessment information can improve program services and increase the payoff from state pre-kindergarten investments.
“Quality pre-kindergarten is necessary to improve academic achievement and to support increasingly diverse populations of young children,” noted Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development. “The accountability project will increase our ability to align pre-k with kindergarten through grade three education and help schools narrow unacceptable achievement gaps.”
Quality early education programs provide a wide variety of age-appropriate learning activities. Young children learn to work and play together with their peers. Good programs foster children's physical health, curiosity and social skills, as well as helping them prepare for kindergarten. Child assessments, standards for programs and accountability systems must reflect this broad range of goals, rather than focusing exclusively on a few narrow academic skills.
"Research clearly shows that early childhood experiences set the stage for a lifetime of learning," said Ellen S. Alberding, President of the Joyce Foundation. "Top-quality early childhood programs can help close the achievement gap that too often separates low-income children from their peers. This initiative promises to help states identify the best possible strategies to help children get a strong start so that they come to school eager to learn."
The National Early Childhood Accountability Task Force is part of The Pew Charitable Trusts' $42 million early education initiative, Advancing High-Quality Pre-K for All, which builds public support for pre-kindergarten that is accessible to all who want it. Launched in 2001, the Trusts' initiative works with researchers, business leaders, law enforcement officials and others who see value in investing in quality early education. The Trusts funds organizations to support public education campaigns and research, answer key questions on how to institute quality pre-k, and joins with other funders to support advocacy efforts in states that are ready to advance major pre-kindergarten initiatives.
The Foundation for Child Development (FCD) is a national, private philanthropy dedicated to the principle that all families should have the social and material resources to raise their children to be healthy, educated and productive members of their communities. Its Pre-K to Three Initiative seeks to build a new beginning for publicly supported education.
Based in Chicago with assets of $800 million, the Joyce Foundation supports efforts to improve the quality of life in the Great Lakes region. It invests approximately $8 million annually in efforts to improve education for Midwest children, especially by promoting early childhood education and improving the quality of teaching. Other grant programs are in Environment, Employment, Money and Politics, Gun Violence Prevention, and Culture.
The Pew Charitable Trusts serves the public interest by providing information, advancing policy solutions and supporting civic life. Based in Philadelphia, with an office in Washington, D.C., the Trusts will invest $204 million in fiscal year 2006 to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions to challenging issues. www.pewtrusts.org