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Early Childhood Education

By Elizabeth Cryan Photography with permission from Donnell-Kay Foundation at Rocky Mountain Prep school

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Improving young children’s early learning experiences is an essential complement to K-12 reforms. Research shows that early years form the crucial foundation for children’s later learning, but that disadvantaged youngsters have less access to the types of experiences that foster learning and development, resulting in large achievement gaps even before children enter kindergarten. High-quality early childhood programs can help prevent or narrow these gaps, however, allowing children from all backgrounds to enter school prepared to succeed.

Bellwether’s work in early childhood seeks to make publicly funded programs more effective; develop innovative strategies to expand access to high-quality early learning; improve the preparation, training, and compensation of early childhood educators; and scale the work of high-performing early childhood providers. We also work to bridge the divide between K-12 and early childhood policies to help create aligned, birth-to-eight learning systems.

We advise foundations and advocacy organizations working to improve early learning outcomes and produce research, policy analysis, and ideas for the field as a whole. Although our approach is grounded in a deep knowledge of childhood development, how young children learn, and the early childhood provider and policy landscape, we also draw on relevant lessons from our K-12 work.

The content below reflects our work on this issue:


March 5, 2019
Ashley LiBetti
Leading by Exemplar: Case Studies of Head Start Programs is an in-depth analysis of five high-performing Head Start programs from across the country...
March 5, 2019
Ashley LiBetti
Leading by Exemplar: Data Utilization in Head Start Programs provides in-depth information about the data utilization practices of five high-...
February 26, 2019
Bonnie O'Keefe, Melissa Steel King, Chad Aldeman
An Uneven Path: Student Achievement in Boston Public Schools 2007-2017 finds that Boston students outperform their peers in other cities on...
December 4, 2018
Ashley LiBetti
Early childhood educators play a crucial role in supporting the development of our nation’s youngest children. Research shows that the quality of...
February 26, 2018
Emily Workman, Lisa Guernsey, Sara Mead
Early childhood educators have a unique opportunity to foster the development of cognitive, behavioral, and social skills. But the work is not easy...


August 23, 2017
Mathematica Policy Research released a study earlier this week looking at the effects of KIPP pre-K on student achievement. The results, which have...
July 27, 2017
Disparities in learning begin even earlier than you think.
June 30, 2017
Policymakers won't improve early childhood education by constraining their ideas to the existing system.

Issue Experts

Blog Posts

November 2, 2020
Tanya Paperny
Throughout the past month, Bellwether has weighed in on the financial health of schools in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with different...
October 30, 2020
Ashley LiBetti
This is our latest post in “The Looming Financial Crisis?” series. Read the rest here. Even in the best of times, the community-based...
July 30, 2020
Sara Mead
This is my last week at Bellwether. Next week, I’ll be joining D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education as Assistant...