Early Childhood Education: An Emerging Policy Priority

happy boy reading

Among the many issues discussed during the first State of the Union address of President Obama's second term was the importance of high-quality early childhood education. Research has shown that high-quality P–3 programs (preschool through third grade) can help close the “achievement gap” and have a high return on investment for society.

RAND's early childhood experts have studied a range of critical issues, including:

  • parental involvement
  • teacher training
  • teaching strategies
  • education program evaluation.

Blog Posts

  • State of the Union 2016: Insights on Obama's Last Address

    Jan 13, 2016

    RAND research provides context for many of the issues discussed in President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address—including the importance of early childhood education, which can yield benefits in academic achievement, delinquency and crime, and labor market success.

  • Hawaii Reading Scores Improved After 'Preschool to Third Grade' Initiative

    Dec 21, 2015

    Hawaii's “preschool to third-grade” initiative significantly improved third-grade reading scores. The P-3 approach is a promising education reform that should be considered by those seeking to improve early education performance.

  • A Comprehensive Approach to Early Education

    Nov 23, 2015

    A relatively new approach to improving long-term educational outcomes, called “preschool to third grade,” or P-3, focuses on the youngest students. Hawaii's recent initiative has been successful at raising third-grade reading scores.

  • Step Aside, 'Screen Time.' Make Room for 'Screen Purpose.'

    Nov 17, 2015

    Technology is simply another way to communicate, learn, and play. It shouldn't automatically be regarded as a threat. Whether technology helps or harms children largely depends on how it is used.

  • Business Leaders (Should) Take Note: Children Make the World Go Round

    May 8, 2015

    Policymakers and researchers already know that investments in society's youngest members pay dividends for society at large over lifetimes. Now businesses are beginning to catch on.

  • Investing in Kids Can Yield High Returns: Q&A with Dr. Lynn A. Karoly

    Apr 8, 2015

    There is strong evidence of large potential economic returns to investing in high quality early childhood programs, but that doesn't mean that every program will generate equally large returns. Many programs likely have a “threshold” of quality and intensity that needs to be achieved in order to register positive returns.

  • Helping Teachers Overcome Technology Barriers in Early Childhood Education

    Nov 21, 2014

    When it comes to helping children appreciate the benefits of using technology in a classroom setting, early childhood education providers play a critical role integrating that technology appropriately, intentionally, and productively. But these educators face myriad barriers to fulfilling these roles.

  • Access to Technology Is Key to Early Childhood Education

    Nov 4, 2014

    For children from all income classes to benefit from the proper use of technology in early childhood education, providers, families, and children themselves must have access to an adequate technology infrastructure, including devices, connectivity, and software.

  • The Role of Technology in the Lives of Children

    Oct 10, 2014

    On a typical day, children ages 3-5 spend an average of four hours with technology, and technology use is increasing among children of all ages. Debates about the role of technology in early childhood education are ongoing, with some providers, parents, and others yet to be convinced of its potential benefits.

  • With Child Migrants Set to Become Students, Educators Must Prepare

    Jul 14, 2014

    Between 70,000 and 90,000 unaccompanied children are expected to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by year's end. Lost in an intensifying debate over U.S. immigration policy is the possibility that this wave will spill from shelters to schools. To best respond to this reality, policymakers and educators should consider what research says about educating migrant children.

  • Narrowing the Income Achievement Gap

    Jun 12, 2014

    The achievement gap between children from the highest- and lowest-income families has substantially grown since 1960. The income achievement gap is now about twice the size of the black-white achievement gap.

  • RAND Convenes Experts to Examine Role of Technology in Early Childhood Education

    Jun 4, 2014

    The forum focused on several key issues underlying successful integration of technology into early childhood settings, including the goals that should be established for technology use, the infrastructure that is needed to support it, and the facilitating roles of teachers and parents.

  • State of the Union 2014: President Obama Calls for a Year of Action

    Jan 29, 2014

    Obama called for “a year of action” to achieve his 2014 agenda — from helping people sign up for health insurance, to immigration reform, to completing the mission in Afghanistan. RAND is committed to raising the level of public policy debates and offering evidence-based, actionable solutions.

  • Give Poor Kids a Chance with Early Education

    Apr 9, 2013

    Federal and state initiatives to advance preschool program quality will further ensure that these investments in early learning programs will achieve their full promise and promote healthy child development — physically, socially, emotionally, and academically, writes Lynn Karoly.

  • High-Quality Early Childhood Programs Require High-Quality Teachers

    Mar 18, 2013

    High-quality early childhood interventions can improve academic achievement, reduce crime and delinquency, and enhance future labor market success, but the operative word is “high quality,” says Brian Stecher.

  • The President's Early Childhood Expansion Should Take a 'Portfolio' Approach

    Feb 21, 2013

    An optimal approach to strategically expanding access to early childhood programs is one that helps states and communities identify evidence-based approaches that address their particular needs, within the context of their characteristics, writes M. Rebecca Kilburn.

  • SOTU 2013: Obama Calls for Greater Investment in Preschool Programs

    Feb 13, 2013

    Among the many issues discussed during the first State of the Union address of President Obama's second term was the importance of high-quality early childhood education. Research has shown that such programs have a high return on investment for society and may help close the “achievement gap.”

  • Fed Chair Ben Bernanke Cites RAND Research on Importance of Early Education Programs

    Aug 2, 2012

    Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System Ben S. Bernanke cited RAND studies that document the importance of early investment in children's learning. Bernanke argues that early education programs, especially those serving disadvantaged children, are one of the best investments that society can make in its future.


  • Lynn Karoly on the Return on Early Childhood Investment

    Sep 23, 2015

    In this 60 Second Lecture from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, Lynn Karoly, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, discusses the return on philanthropic investments in early childhood programs.

  • Media Conference Call on Early Childhood Development

    Feb 19, 2013

    In this media conference call, RAND experts on early childhood development and education explain the importance of early childhood development in laying the foundation for success later in life, as well as the potential for high-quality programs to yield a return on investment for society at large.

Jill Cannon

Jill Cannon

A policy researcher whose work focuses on examining the relationship between early childhood programs and policies and child outcomes.

Lynn A. Karoly

Lynn A. Karoly

A senior economist who has examined the costs and benefits of early childhood programs.

M. Rebecca Kilburn

A senior economist whose research focuses on the effects of public and private investments in children.

Heather L. Schwartz

Heather L. Schwartz

A policy researcher who has conducted cost studies of early childhood learning programs.

Gail L. Zellman

Gail L. Zellman

A senior research psychologist who has studied child care quality and ratings systems.