Program standards define quality and practice expectations for the field and learning standards establish expectations for what children should know and be able to do. 

Policy Choices

  • Developmentally, linguistically, and culturally appropriate early learning standards that reflect the major domains of development (social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language) and foundational skill areas (literacy, math, science, social studies, and the arts)
  • Alignment of early learning and K-12 standards across the major domains of development and foundational skill areas
  • Core competencies for professionals tied to standards and desired outcomes
  • Implementation of standards through teacher preparation, training, curricula and assessment, with review of results for vulnerable children
  • Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) that are financed to advance programs to higher quality ratings and improved child outcomes
  • Development and use of program quality and practice standards for family support providers


Facts about Standards 

  • Many states have developed a statewide quality rating and improvement system to define, measure, monitor, and promote high-quality child care in homes, centers, or school-based settings. [i]
  • Quality standards vary across states but usually include measures of professional development or the qualifications of teachers and caregivers, the quality of the learning environment, and family engagement efforts.
  • Core knowledge or competency standards establish a set of personal characteristics and attributes that support effective job performance for early childhood and early elementary educators, caretakers, and practitioners who work with young children.[ii] Learning standards or guidelines articulate what children should know and do at all stages of development.[iii]  
  • These standards and guidelines typically address cognitive skills (language, reading, math, science), and foundational skills (social skills, behavioral control, motivation, problem solving) because both are essential for success in school and in life.


[i] Tout, K., Starr, R., Soli, M., Moodie, S., Kirby, G., & Boller, K. (2010). The child care Quality Rating System (QRS) Assessment: Compendium of Quality Rating Systems (OPRE Report). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. Available at
[ii] Zaslow, M., & Martinez-Beck, I. (2005). Critical issues in early childhood professional development. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.
[iii] Scott-Little, C., Kagan, S.L., & Frelow, V.S. (2006). Conceptualization of readiness and the content of early learning standards: The intersection of policy and research? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21, 153-173.
[iii] Good Start, Grow Smart Interagency Workgroup. (2006). Good Start, Grow Smart: A guide to Good Start, Grow Smart and other federal early learning initiatives. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.