Non-Regulatory Guidance on Supporting Early Learning

October 20, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education released today non-regulatory guidance to help ensure young children from birth through third-grade get the strong start they need to achieve success in school and in life. This is the Department’s first comprehensive look at how the nation’s new education law supports our youngest learners.

President Obama signed the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law in December to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and replace key requirements of the outdated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. For the first time, the ESSA includes provisions to promote coordination in early learning among local communities; align preschool with early elementary school; and build the capacity of teachers, leaders and others serving young children to provide the highest-quality early learning opportunities. Early learning is woven throughout the ESSA, as a means of addressing educational equity, supporting students’ school success, and bringing greater alignment along the entire education continuum. The ESSA, also for the first time, authorizes Preschool Development Grants, building upon the existing Preschool Development Grant program which has support 18 states, to ensure more students across the country have access to high-quality preschool.

This guidance is intended to remind state and local decision-makers about the importance of investing in early learning, highlight the opportunities available under the new law to strengthen early education, and provide examples of how states and local communities can support young children’s success in school. The guidance is available here.

“Expanding High-quality early learning opportunities helps close achievement gaps because it gives all children—no matter their zip code—a strong start,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “A high-quality early education can support social-emotional development and unlock a child’s potential, so that all children have the foundation they need to thrive in school and beyond.”

Positive Impact of High-Quality Early Learning

High-quality early learning programs help to narrow achievement gaps between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers, which are detectable as early as nine months of age. Children who attend high-quality early learning programs, and more specifically preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, are less likely to need special education services, and are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, and succeed in their careers than those who have not attended such programs.

Early Learning in ESSA

This guidance assists state educational agencies, school districts, schools, outlying areas, the Bureau of Indian Education and community-based organizations in supporting young children’s success in school by highlighting how they can:

    • expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities;
    • encourage alignment and collaboration of early learning programs from birth through third grade; and
    • support early learning educators

The ESSA builds on the civil rights legacy of the original federal education law by providing protections for our most vulnerable students and directing federal resources toward programs and strategies that help all students thrive. With this reauthorization, the law has been transformed from a kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) education law to one which cements the importance of a preschool through twelfth grade (P-12) continuum of learning.

Investing in Early Education

All parents and families want their children to start school ready for success, and all children in America deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. Quality early childhood education is part of the foundation that helps children thrive both in school and in life. The benefits of the rich opportunities for learning and development provided in high-quality preschool are long lasting and powerful for all children, but especially disadvantaged children who, too often, enter kindergarten a year or more behind their peers in key academic and social-emotional skills. Research shows that children who participate in quality preschool are more likely to read, write, and do math at grade level, graduate from high school, enter college and grow up healthy to secure a good job and support stable families.

That’s why from the beginning of the Administration, President Obama has made early education a priority. In 2013, President Obama put forth his bold Preschool for All proposal to establish a federal-state partnership that would provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. After the President’s call, many states took action and today, 46 states and the District of Columbia invest in preschool programs. From 2009 to 2015, states enrolled 48,000 additional four-year-olds in preschool through their own investments. The Obama Administration has also invested an additional $4 billion in Head Start, the largest federal early childhood initiative, and $1.75 billion in Preschool Development Grants and Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants, leading to hundreds of thousands more children having access to high-quality preschool across the country.