07/15/2013 - Pew’s evaluation of its early education strategy provides a rich set of lessons for work in policy and advocacy. They include the following:
Revisiting goals and strategies is essential for long-running initiatives. The early education project revised its goal for the number of states that would adopt universal pre-kindergarten policies and the age group covered by those policies, and its strategy evolved from a focus on a small number of “prime mover” states to a willingness to invest wherever the prospects for constructive policy change appeared most promising. Thoughtful recalibrations such as this are a good response to experience in the field.
Consider the nature and size of public investment required in policy initiatives. Achieving a policy goal that requires considerable new public funds, particularly year after year, is difficult during a period of tight state budgets and fiscal uncertainty.
State-by-state rankings are a valuable tactic. Policymakers and advocates found state-by-state rankings helpful as an educational tool when pushing for improved policies, underscoring the value of state comparisons for drawing attention to issues and encouraging re-examination of policy.
Research quality trumps organizational issues. No organizational arrangement can fully insulate Pew against spurious claims that support for research is “buying the desired result.” But high-quality research that is overseen by independent experts or generates publications for leading peer-reviewed journals is the best defense against misguided criticism.
Ensure that mutual objectives are aligned when seeking allies. The early education strategy made effective use of existing organizations to support state advocacy, although challenges sometimes arose in fitting the initiative’s specific policy objective into these groups’ pre-existing policy agendas. The effectiveness of Pew’s advocacy investment was limited when advocates could not present a united front.
Bringing credible new voices into the debate is valuable. Drawing support from outside the early education field, particularly from law enforcement and business, was important in convincing policymakers in several states of the importance of pre-kindergarten.
Politics in the 21st century is still local. Pew enlisted national business leaders to promote early education, but typically state and local business interests influenced state and local officials.