Putting Early Childhood in State Data Systems

Oct 01, 2009

By Hannah Matthews

States are making progress on creating longitudinal data systems that allow for tracking individual student achievement and data use as a tool to foster continuous improvement in educational systems. To date, most of these systems focus on K-12 education and incorporate little early childhood data. Yet, policy and funding opportunities exist to move early childhood data systems forward. 

The Head Start Act of 2007 included an emphasis on comprehensive data collection. The law requires states to create State Early Childhood Advisory Councils. One of the stated responsibilities of the Councils is to "develop recommendations for a unified data collection system for public early childhood programs and services throughout the State." The Early Learning Challenge Fund, as passed by the House of Representatives, challenges states to collect comprehensive early childhood data to inform early childhood systems building and move more low-income children into high-quality settings. 

The U.S. Department of Education had made clear that establishing effective statewide data systems is one of its four main education reform goals. To receive funds under the $54 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), governors agreed to create longitudinal data systems tracking children from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary. In addition to Stabilization Funds, additional federal funding streams are available to create and enhance longitudinal data systems. A new interactive tool from the Data Quality Campaign provides a road map for state policymakers on how to leverage federal funding for such systems and create the most effective systems from available funds. The tool identifies ARRA funds that may be used for integrate early childhood data in statewide systems: 

  • Statewide Longitudinal Data System Grants
  • State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
  • State Incentive Grants (Race to the Top)
  • IDEA Part B (ages 3-21)
  • IDEA Part C (ages birth-2)
  • Title I Funds
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Child Care and Development Block Grant (quality funds)
  • Head Start State Early Childhood Advisory Council Grants 

Closing the achievement gap and improving educational outcomes begins with high-quality early education for vulnerable children. Including early childhood data in state longitudinal data systems is a critical component of identifying educational strategies that work. While opportunities are available, linking early childhood data with K-12 data is largely not required by federal policy. Early childhood advocates must take advantage of newly available federal funds and ensure that early childhood data systems are thoughtfully incorporated into the development of data systems that is occurring now at the state level. 

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