Lynn Karoly: Informing Investments in Early Care and Education Programs

This week, I had the honor of attending a talk by Lynn Karoly, senior economist at the RAND Corporation, at Pitzer College. Professor Karoly’s research focuses on child and family well-being and early care and education programs. At RAND, she conducts nonpartisan, policy-driven research within these fields.

Today, the key puzzle in early care and education (ECE) is how to provide access to high-quality early learning programs to children. Numerous factors must be taken into account in order to build a robust early education system: the monitoring and incentivizing of ECE services, strategies to grow and support qualified ECE workforce, and ensuring the system is aligned with standard K-12 education.

However, all of this extensive work is worth it. Professor Karoly’s research has proven that high-quality pre-school programs raise school readiness skills. These gains, moreover, are consistent across different races and ethnicities, as well as income levels. A rigorous evaluation of national, state, and local programs revealed mostly favorable significant effects in pre-math, vocabulary, and print awareness of pre-schoolers.

Unfortunately, this romanticized view does not portray reality properly. Once in school, children who are better prepared are overlooked as teachers try to get farther-behind students caught up. This reveals a caveat in the system: investing in ECE programs will not work unless these efforts are adopted on a nationwide scale. Thanks to the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), progress is on the way. In numerous states, the QRIS institution specifies minimum ECE program features through licensing and constantly monitors preschools for compliance. In fact, the state of California is currently being evaluated. Please join me in praising Professor Karoly’s efforts and hoping for advances in early care and education.

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