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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:


December 12, 2017
Bonnie O'Keefe
A growing number of early childhood education (ECE) programs are using coaching to support teachers’ professional development and improve the quality...
February 8, 2017
Marnie Kaplan, Sara Mead
In 2007, Congress and then-President George W. Bush set out to improve Head Start by passing a law that made significant changes to the program....
September 7, 2016
Andrew J. Rotherham, Jennifer O'Neal Schiess
Education is not getting much attention on the presidential campaign trail, but that doesn't mean the next administration won't face a variety of...
January 12, 2016
Sara Mead, Ashley LiBetti Mitchel
Head Start is a valuable program that delivers early childhood education and comprehensive services to over one million children living in poverty,...
August 3, 2015
Sara Mead
In June 2015, the Federal Register published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Head Start Performance Standards, the federal regulations...


June 27, 2017
Without consideration of the developmentally critical early years, a school accountability system reflects a limited view of educational quality.
May 18, 2017
Head Start has accomplished a great deal for children and families – but it could do even more.
May 4, 2017
America spends the least on education during the years in which children learn most.

Blog Posts

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...
July 23, 2020
Alyssa Schwenk
Longtime Bellwether Partner and noted early-childhood education expert Sara Mead will leave the organization at the end of this month to...
April 28, 2020
Sara Mead
COVID-19 highlights the foundational weaknesses in our nation’s approach to early care and education. Unlike K-12 public schools, which are...