Education Level: Early Childhood


Early childhood
Birth to 5 years

Decorative picture of a young child.

The path to success in school and life begins in the critical years between birth and age 5. Family, community and school all play significant roles in making sure children enter kindergarten ready to learn.

Publication March 2018 | 4 pages
Research Snapshot | Pre-K Benefits: 2018 Update

Pre-K Benefits: 2018 Update
Research Snapshot

This snapshot summarizes important takeaways from four research studies published in 2017 that reinforce the value of pre-K. High-quality pre-K programs help prepare children for school, especially dual language learners and children from low-income families. Head Start programs can disrupt the cycle of poverty. And pre-K shows effects on outcomes such as math achievement and the likelihood of graduating from high school.


Blog post Pre-K Benefits: 2018 Update Samantha Durrance, SREB Policy Analyst
Graduated from high school: Attended ECE Program 74%, No ECE 63% Repeated a grade: Attended ECE Program 23%, No ECE 31% Placed in special education: Attended ECE Program 20%, No ECE 28%

New Research Points to Continued Promise of Pre-K

Researchers continue to examine the long-term impacts of pre-K participation, and more sophisticated methods and better data may help solidify the consensus that has already emerged: investing in early childhood education plays an important role in preparing young children for success in the early grades and pays off in the long run.

Publication November 2015 | (15E08) (15E09)

Early Childhood Education
State Policy Recommendations

The report of the SREB Early Childhood Commission

Building a Strong Foundation: State Policy for Early Childhood Education

The Commission calls for states to raise the quality of early education programs and ensure they are well-coordinated across different agencies and budgets. 

The recommendations cover wider access and accountability for results. The report also sheds light on the need for a statewide policy framework to bring together public and private funding currently spread across agencies and budgets.

Blog post Dyslexia Policies in SREB States Samantha Durrance, SREB Policy Analyst
Dyslexia policies in SREB states, January 2018

Don’t Be Afraid to Say “Dyslexia”
Acknowledging and identifying dyslexia is step one in helping struggling readers

Researchers estimate that dyslexia affects at least one in 10 people. As defined by the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability, unrelated to intelligence, characterized by differences in the way the brain processes language. These differences result in difficulties developing skills that are important for reading and writing. While it cannot be outgrown, individuals with dyslexia can learn strategies to help them overcome the unique challenges it presents.

Publication March 201510 pages

Early Childhood Commission Glossary

Glossary of terms related to early childhood education, pre-K and child care. Includes key early childhood organizations, types of programs, and terms related to quality, accountability and assessment, statewide alignment, federal programs and funding sources, teacher quality, and family engagement strategies, plus sources. Compiled by SREB staff for SREB’s Early Childhood Commission



Early Learning: Return on Investment
SREB Annotated Bibliography, 2014

Findings in these studies identify specific elements in pre-K programs that are most beneficial. Evidence from state programs in Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia is also instructive. Studies provide a sampling of research on policy topics with nationwide applicability.

  • Cost-benefit and effect size analyses of pre-K programs
  • Catch up vs. fade out: Do pre-K’s positive effects persist through K-12?
  • Evaluations of pre-K programs in SREB states



Early Learning: Birth to Third Grade Continuum
SREB Annotated Bibliography, 2014

Recent studies indicate that persistent achievement gaps among children begin as early as 18 months, years before most publicly funded prekindergarten programs offer enrollment. Early childhood development necessitates more than access to pre-K at age four. Proper brain development requires adequate nutrition, access to quality healthcare, and other early interventions to promote social, emotional, and physical well-being. Likewise, research supports such a holistic approach to early education — including recommendations to states on implementing parent engagement opportunities, early literacy interventions and home visiting programs — to ensure that every child enters school ready to learn. Policy-makers should look for ways to align these programs from birth through third grade to ease the transition into school, especially for at-risk children.

The following studies provide a sampling of research on policy topics with nationwide applicability.


Early Learning: Program Quality in Early Childhood Education
SREB Annotated Bibliography, 2014

Overwhelmingly, research shows that program quality is a major determinant in the achievement gains for young children who participate in early education programs. Teacher quality, in particular, is closely related to positive educational outcomes for preschool participants. Research shows that children in programs whose lead and supporting teachers have higher education qualifications and ongoing professional development show the greatest gains. Also, research shows that the use of developmentally appropriate curricula predicts program quality, as does a high degree of direct instruction that comes from smaller staff-child ratios and focused small group activities. Evidence suggests that these positive outcomes benefit a diverse range of children from various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The development of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRISs) shows promise in giving states a tool to assess program quality accurately and link together disjointed components of early childhood education systems.

The following studies provide a sampling of research on policy topics with nationwide applicability.

Publication June 201612 pages(16E06)
Cover of the SREB Goals for Education report.

Challenge to Lead Goals for Education: Refreshed 2020

Challenge to Lead 2020 Goals for Education: Refreshed 2020 offers six critical goals. They were designed to help SREB state leaders connect measures of student achievement to essential state policies. Each goal includes background information and the steps states need to take to meet each goal in the years ahead.


Blog post Governor Steve Beshear
Governor Beshear

Leaders from Southern states push to improve early education

Our understanding about early childhood development has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. New brain research tells us that children’s brains form very rapidly early on, and their earliest experiences have lifelong effects on their likelihood to succeed. 

Now it’s time to put what we’ve learned into practice so that our young children get the best start possible.

Blog post Beth Day
Craig Ramey of Virginia Tech shared research about early childhood brain development and the return on investing in high-quality programs

The Critical Infrastructure of Early Learning
Birth to Books

What happens in a child’s first three years of life has deep and long-lasting implications for success in school and life. Studies show that how many words children are exposed to by age 3, their mothers’ education level, and the stress of poverty are huge factors in whether or not they are ready for kindergarten at age 5. 

Blog post Beth Day
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear addresses the SREB  Early Childhood Commission, March 2015 in Louisville

Children, families and communities

Momentum is building around dual-generational strategies focused on both parents and children. But programs need to move from parent engagement to a new level: parent learning, said Sharon Darling, president of the National Center for Families Learning.

When parents have specific strategies to help children, literacy levels are higher at grade 3,” she told members of the SREB Early Childhood Commission. Parents want to know, What should we do when we turn off the TV, when we are at the dinner table?