Elizabeth Laird posted on 10/16/2012.

Putting the P in P–20W Data Systems

P–20W is not something you use to quiet a squeaky door hinge. Rather, it is a (admittedly wonky) term that refers to the educational experiences students have from early childhood through college and careers. Every state has committed to build P–20W data systems to better understand how educational experiences ultimately improve (or don’t) student outcomes. Much of the focus has been on building and linking K–12 with postsecondary and workforce data; however, states have a lot more work to do to put the P (i.e., early childhood) in P–20W data systems.

You might be surprised to learn that there is no standard definition of early childhood education, and certainly no agreement on what data states should collect about it. You say prenatal, I say preschool: Let’s call the whole thing off. For many years, that’s what states have done.

A national analysis released last year by DQC’s sister campaign, the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC), revealed that not only can states not answer questions about what’s working, but they can’t answer basic questions like the number of children served in the state, the characteristics of existing programs, and the qualifications of the adults working in early care and education programs. Pretty shocking, right?

The good news is that every state collects some early care and education (ECE) data on individual children, program sites, and/or members of the ECE workforce. And according to our state analysis, Data for Action 2011, 46 states annually match and share early childhood and K–12 data. However, data gaps remain, and existing data systems are uncoordinated.

Much like DQC’s 10 Essential Elements, ECDC has created the 10 Fundamentals of Coordinated State Early Care and Education Data Systems. These 10 ECE Fundamentals were also included as part of the Race to the Top-Early Learning competition. They provide a roadmap for states to guide their planning efforts and are based on critical questions facing states, like these:

  • Are children, birth to age five, on track to succeed when they enter school and beyond?
  • Which children have access to high-quality early care and education programs?
  • What are the characteristics of effective programs?
  • How prepared is the early care and education workforce to provide effective education and care for all children?

There’s obviously a lot of work to do, but states are making progress. Today ECDC hosted a webinar to highlight a recent report, which analyzes states’ Race to the Top-Early Learning applications. The key finding is that states have prioritized better data systems—but future implementation remains unclear.

We’re looking forward to continuing to work with ECDC to help states not only collect and link K–12 and early childhood data but help all stakeholders use that data to do what we’re all here to do: improve outcomes for every child.

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