Early childhood development and education has been a major topic of discussion and planning at all levels-federal, state, and local communities – not only because of the widespread recognition of the research base on the importance of early development to long-term schooling success, but as a critical national investment strategy for the future of the nation in the 21st Century global economy. In recent years, early childhood interventions from birth to the early grades have received much attention, including billions in federal and state spending in early childhood care and education programs. There have been many advances in research and the knowledge base on what contributes to healthy development and learning success for all of the increasingly diverse children growing up in this country. This progress falls far short of a vision and standards of an educated citizenry in the United States. For example, the United States lags far behind other leading nations in providing universal child care and preschool for all children, regardless of family income, social status, race, or ethnicity. While there is a significant increase in the number of children attending day care and preschool programs, access to this care is very inequitably distributed. In addition, the research base on the quality of these program options is sorely lacking. The complexity of multiple challenges facing families and their children and the rich resources that can be mobilized in the service of healthy development and educational success of this nation’s young children are highlighted in the research base and have significant implications for policy and practice. An interdisciplinary team of nationally known scholars and practitioner leaders were commissioned to prepare background papers to provide knowledge syntheses of what is known from research and practical applications. The authors were asked to address questions that are frequently raised in public discussions about new and continuing investments in early childhood programs, including:
– What is the current state of knowledge about the impact of early childhood programs on learning and development of young children? What works? Who benefits most? What are the limits of our knowledge? Physics
– What contributes to effective implementation and how is a high degree of implementation sustained? What conditions increase the quality of program implementation and effectiveness?
– What are the implications for policy and program development, modification, and expansion? How can the best or most promising practices be disseminated to scale up implementation of quality early childcare and education programs, particularly for children from educationally and economically disadvantaged circumstances?
– Access to public-supported daycare and preschool programs should be universal regardless of family income, social status, or ethnic and racial backgrounds. These programs should be full-day, full-year programs that do not distinguish between childcare and education. Universal access to daycare and preschool education would attract greater numbers of middle and lower socioeconomic status families to early childhood programs, which would lead to increased diversity and ultimately to better quality programs. The current “you get what you pay for” mentality that exists would be eliminated and all children would begin their education on a level playing field.
– Universal access to daycare and preschool programs should be seamless, creating a continuity of learning for children. Curriculum and assessment standards must be aligned and services should be comprehensive and aimed at intellectual, physical, and social development of children and their readiness to achieve learning success in elementary schools.