3 Practices and 3 Policies Indispensable for Quality Pre-K: A New Resource for Politicians and Policymakers

In 2016 and 2017, more than 30 individuals from top-level research organizations, early learning programs, and advocacy organizations came together at New America to distill years of research on what it takes to provide a quality pre-K experience for 3- and 5-year-old children. The task was to find a way to produce simple, easy-to-remember statements about instructional practices and policies rooted in the latest research and reflecting common ground across multiple institutions and viewpoints. The results of that project are now available: Last month, the Alliance for Early Success published Indispensables for Quality Pre-K, a website  and downloadable one-pager designed to assist policymakers and political candidates interested in promoting the importance of quality in pre-K, as well as for state education leaders who aim to improve their early learning systems.

These statements, called the 3+3 Indispensables for short, are displayed on the website to be “clickable” so that one can easily access and understand the significance of the research behind each statement. The statements are:

3 Practices

  • Engage in positive interactions with children and their families, recognizing the strengths and diversity of their backgrounds.
  • Use learning trajectories in subject areas and domains, supported by effective curricula, to help children meet goals in learning and development.
  • Promote children’s social development and self-regulation in ways that reflect an understanding of the multiple biological and environmental factors that affect behavior.

3 Policies

  • Allocate increased, predictable, and sustainable funding to establish the conditions necessary for high-quality teaching and learning.
  • Provide educators with professional learning (pre-service and in-service) based at a minimum on the 3 Indispensable Practices and on in-service opportunities aligned with the definition of professional development in the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Use high-quality data to promote continuous quality improvement and better continuity from ages 0–3 to pre-K and pre-K to grades K–3.

The website features an Origins page, where you can read more about how these statements came to be, read the principles behind them, see the definition of pre-K used for this project (which was inclusive of Head Start, state-funded pre-K programs, and other early learning programs for children ages 3 and 4), view the list of participants, find links to related projects underway around the country, and read about the caveats (not the least of which is the emphasis on ensuring that policymakers focus on the whole spectrum of early learning, from birth through third grade, of which pre-K is only one part).

The theory of change behind the project was the following: If a critical mass of diverse early childhood stakeholders can find common ground on indispensable practices and policies for high-quality pre-K, then policymakers can have more confidence in supporting and promoting these policies that advance high-quality pre-K and stronger teacher practice. The idea of generating these statements came from five philanthropies with a dedication to improving outcomes for young children: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Public dissemination of the project’s result is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. New America, a non-partisan think tank, led the meetings and the dissemination work.

To prepare for the meetings, New America enlisted School Readiness Consulting to write a standards and research review that analyzed program standards and quality pre-K frameworks to find common themes among them. Several respected standards and benchmarks documents were incorporated into that review, including the performance standards published by Head Start, the benchmarks used by the National Institute for Early Education Research’s Preschool Yearbook, the 15 Essential Elements that emerged from an analysis published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and more. New America published the review in 2017 as Indispensable Policies & Practices for High-Quality Pre-K: A Research and Standards Review.

The meetings crystallized the need to zoom in on and explicitly name teaching and learning as a defining aspect of a quality pre-K experience. Attendees agreed that a pre-K setting cannot be labeled as “quality” and certainly not as “high quality” without an intentional focus on teaching and learning. Yet, too often, policymakers, practitioners, and parents have had to sift through a multitude of interpretations of “high quality” as it relates to pre-K teaching and learning. 

In the spring of 2018, New America convened an advisory group with expertise in equity across early learning (see list of participants below) to review plans for dissemination and guide the use of these messages with an eye toward ensuring that any new or augmented pre-K policies are designed to ensure children of color and children in low-income households are not left out or harmed. A Think Equity guide is embedded in the Indispensables for Pre-K project.  The Alliance for Early Success published the package of 3+3 Indispensables in July 2018 to facilitate widespread dissemination to state-level policymakers and advocates across the country.

Lisa Guernsey and Laura Bornfreund

New America

(October 18, 2018)