Creating Better Early Childhood Data Systems

Oct 01, 2012

By Stephanie Schmit

Access to reliable and comparable young child data is scarce, yet critically important to creating quality learning environments for young children. Quality data can be an advocacy tool that has the ability to influence policy decisions. As federal initiatives, such as the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) and the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, increasingly require states to report on outcomes for infants, toddlers and young children supported by these funds, states must develop systems that are more coordinated and comprehensive. Both the RTT-ELC and the MIECHV program provide funding and guidelines for states to move state level early childhood data systems forward.

The Early Childhood Data Collaborative released Developing Coordinated Longitudinal Early Childhood Data Systems which looks at opportunities in the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge application for states to build these data systems.  The report looks across the applications submitted for the grant and analyzes states' approaches to various data related questions throughout the application. What the report notes is that, regardless of whether states were granted the funds and although states plans vary, there are many commonalities among the proposals that create opportunities for states to learn from one another about creating data systems. For example, many states described ways to make data more accessible and useful by better utilizing available technology and by outlining plans for integrated data systems that are made widely available to stakeholders.

New America Foundation is also adding to the movement of developing better early childhood data systems with its release of an expansion to their education funding database to include data on funding and enrollment for publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs within school districts. The data includes information from 2007-2011 on the state and school district levels for pre-kindergarten programs funded by the state, Head Start programs and education services for 3-5 year olds through Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Of course, it is hard to find flawless data and even more difficult to find data that tells the whole story.  Such is the case for the new pre-kindergarten data provided by New America, which outlines a number of these issues in a new brief. Due to the lack of available data and the organization of the data to include only funds administered through school districts, a number of children in pre-kindergarten settings, including children who may be served by public funds in community-based settings, were unable to be counted. Many states use mixed-delivery systems to bring preschool programs to children in center-based and family child care homes.

The new data provided by New America and the corresponding brief make clear what the Early Childhood Data Collaborative and many others already know-that coordinated and comprehensive data is crucial to influencing policies and creating quality learning environments for children. While states have a long way to go, they are moving forward with creating comprehensive, coordinated early childhood data systems.

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