Early Childhood Education

Birth to age five is a critical time in a child’s life. A child’s experiences in the years before kindergarten have a lasting impact on the trajectory of their lives, shaping their academic, social, and cognitive skills. APA has worked on birth through five issues for nearly a decade, assisting states, districts, and counties on various early childhood education projects. Our work in this area primarily focuses on early childhood education (ECE) program evaluation and finance, bringing our long history and experience in evaluation, school finance, and cost estimation to the ECE field. As part of this work we have developed a number of ECE interactive tools that model the impact of changes to programs and calculate the return on investment of ECE spending.

Please click on the links below to learn more about our work in Early Childhood Education.  To download a fact sheet summarizing our work in this area, please click here.

APA’s history in program evaluation has been applied to the early childhood field. We work collaboratively with our clients to gain consensus on the research questions examined by the evaluation; to identify key outcomes, measures and data sources; and to clearly communicate results and recommendations in a manner that our clients (and their constituents) can understand and act upon.

Key projects

  • The Denver Preschool Program (DPP) was approved by voters in November 2006, and connects Denver-area families with high-quality preschool. DPP focuses on increasing access to preschool, providing preschool choice to families, and raising the quality of preschool programs in Denver. Since 2006, APA has led the evaluation team for DPP, helping the program to understand how parents, children, and preschool providers access the DPP program, and to learn the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the current program's design. To inform the annual program evaluation, APA administers parent and provider surveys, focus groups, interviews and reviews of program data. APA also works closely with Clayton Early Learning on the child outcomes evaluation, and recently began performing analysis of 3rd grade TCAP results, using a propensity score matching approach, to assess the persistence of DPPs impact.
  • APA is the evaluator for three programs currently funded through Mile High United Way’s Social Innovation Fund (SIF), designed to improve literacy outcomes for children from birth to age eight. Each program is required to include a rigorous evaluation component that measures: 1) how consistently and effectively the programs are being implemented; and 2) the impacts of the program on child literacy and learning. One of these programs is Providers Advancing Student Outcomes (PASO), which provides training to home-based preschool providers who serve primarily low-income, Hispanic families. These providers tend to be family, friends, or neighbors of the children they serve and often have little or no training in early childhood literacy or education. PASO provides such training through a year-long course that includes classwork and in-home observations for the preschool providers. APA conducted a formative evaluation of PASO in 2011 designed to inform program leaders and funders about aspects of the program that could be enhanced or improved. APA used a mix of surveys, interviews, observations, focus groups, and reviews of program data to offer a set of objective recommendations. PASO leaders accepted and implemented several recommended changes, such as offering providers the opportunity to earn a nationally-recognized credential for participating in the program. APA is now studying how the program is implemented across several different communities, and has developed an approach to use assessments to measure impacts on children and the providers who serve them, over a three year period.
APA has developed early childhood cost estimation models for the states of Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New York, as well as for Palm Beach County, Florida and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). APA has worked closely with these clients – at the state or county level – to collect data on early childhood programs and make this data accessible through an interactive web-based model. These models allow policy makers and practitioners to view their entire early childhood system and estimate the impact of various changes to variables such as funding, enrollment criteria and population distribution. The development and use of these models helps create understanding and consensus amongst a variety of stakeholders, strengthens public engagement, and can result in more deeply informed policy deliberations and decisions.

Many of our models include a return on investment component, which uses rigorous research to estimate the returns realized by a program or by a comprehensive early childhood system. The ROI modules allow policymakers to not only model the immediate cost implications of changes to programs but also to model the longer term and broader impact. Given the importance of program quality to the returns realized, APA has worked closely with Anne Mitchell of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance on many of our cost estimation models. Anne Mitchell’s work on the cost of quality is nationally recognized and has been instrumental in the development of return on investment modules.

Key projects

  • The Colorado Early Investment Model, commissioned by the Colorado Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC), analyzes the current state and federal funding in early childhood programs that serve at-risk children and their families in Colorado. APA worked with the ECLC to develop the interactive web-based cost model which maps enrollment for Colorado’s early childhood system across four sectors identified by the Early Childhood Colorado Framework: Early Learning, Family Support and Education, Health, and Social and Emotional Mental Health. By adjusting enrollment and quality, the model calculates costs within individual programs, as well as for groups of children. The model also includes a return on investment component, which utilizes robust research to estimate the return per dollar invested for certain programs, categorized by the type of return (such as graduation rates, future income, reduced recidivism). The tool was the first of its kind in the nation to include an extensive state database of public early childhood funding streams, as well as the ability to calculate return on investment.
  • The New York State Early Childhood Cost Estimation Model was developed by APA under contract with the NYS Early Childhood Advisory Council (NYSECAC). The cost estimation model provides information and analysis for determining the cost of programs and services that taken together make up a comprehensive system of supports and services for children birth to five and their families. The interactive web-based tool identifies funding and population served as it relates to the programs and services that support early learning, healthy families, family supports and the coordinated and responsive system. In addition, it identifies funding to support the expansion and modifications of programs and services provided to the children and families of New York. The model draws information from many state agencies that administer and provide early care and education, prenatal and maternal health programs, child health and mental health, and family support and engagement. This model is able to determine the utilization of costs associated with the programs and services being delivered. With this information, policy makers can determine the need to change, eliminate and/or create new programs to better serve an ever changing population in the state.
  • Palm Beach County Early Childhood Cost Calculator. APA is currently working with the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County (CSCPBC) to develop an interactive web-based tool that will map current programs funded by CSCPBC and estimate the costs and future economic benefits of investments in the system.  The calculator is being designed to help policymakers as they make decisions about how best to allocate CSCPBC funding.
APA has experience working with states, and programs – such as the Denver Preschool Program – on issues related to Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Program quality is integral to any discussion of return on investment of ECE programs, with research suggesting that gains in child outcomes in years following preschool are specific to high quality programs. Working with experts, APA methodologies include multipliers to differentiate the returns at different levels of quality.

In addition to integrating discussion of QRIS into many of our projects, we have also worked on projects more directly focused on QRIS, as described below.

Key projects

  • The Provider Cost of Quality Calculator (PCQC) is an online tool developed by APA and Anne Mitchell at the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance through a contract with the U.S. Office of Child Care’s National Center for Child Care Quality Improvement. The tool is designed to help states and providers understand the cost of operating centers or family child care homes at different levels of quality. In essence the tool helps answer the question: “What does it cost for different types or providers to operate a program at each level of quality in your QRIS?” The tool also includes details of revenue and can therefore demonstrate whether there is a gap between the cost of providing quality services and the revenue sources available to support such a program. Knowing the size of the gap at different quality levels for various provider types can inform the design of state financial support and incentive packages. The PCQC builds on spreadsheets developed by Anne Mitchell. APA developed the web-based platform that makes this tool accessible to a wider audience and worked closely with Anne Mitchell, the National Center for Child Care Quality Improvement and a number of pilot states in order to refine the tool methodology, structure and design.
  • As part of its Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, Colorado is developing Next Generation QRIS standards. Colorado’s newly created Office of Early Childhood has contracted APA to develop a web-based cost estimation tool to help providers estimate the costs associated with the various elements of quality, as defined in the new QRIS.   This tool is also being used to help the state estimate the supports and incentives required to help programs progress in the new QRIS. The tool is estimated for completion in summer 2014.