Critical tools in preschool program design maximize investments

January 13, 2022

As the Biden administration and early childhood advocates across the country push for universal preschool for all three- and four-year-olds, Christina Weiland, professor of education and public policy at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, makes the case to include critical tools in program design to increase preschool quality.

A policy brief by Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa of New York University, urges policymakers to include evidence-based curricula and job-embedded, curriculum-based coaching for teachers that will promote children’s learning, narrow inequities in learning opportunities, and maximize positive impacts of preschool investments. 

Most public preschool programs do not currently have evidence-based curricula or job-embedded coaching as part of their programs. The authors cite that 86% of Head Start programs used one of two general all-purpose curricula in 2017, rather than evidence-based curricula. Further, in 2020, only 14 out of 62 state-funded preschool programs required job-embedded coaching for their teachers.

Weiland and Yoshikawa explain that preschoolers learn more in classrooms with evidence-based curricula: “Rigorous research shows that the best preschool curricula are developmentally appropriate – they have a scope and sequence that matches how young children learn; are play-based, fun, and engaging for children; and can be implemented by teachers in real-world settings.”

The authors also describe how evidence-based curricula that focus on one area of learning are more effective than curricula that attempt to teach multiple areas at once. And, evidence-based curricula benefits children from families with low incomes, children of color, and dual-language children the most, proving to be a tool that promotes equity and narrows disparities. 

The authors define job-embedded coaching as “professional development with direct observation of practice, implemented in the everyday work setting of the classroom.” It includes a job coach regularly visiting the classroom to observe and give feedback, with the goal of improving instructional quality, and therefore, learning. Studies show that job-embedded coaching is more effective for improved learning than coaching on general best practices for preschool teaching. 

Additionally, Weiland and Yoshikawa explain that both evidence-based curricula and job-embedded coaching are financially feasible, according to a rigorous cost study of Boston’s Prekindergarten program. 

So, how do we ensure that evidence-based curricula and job-embedded coaching is implemented? Weiland and Yoshikawa propose some regulations that would make universal preschool most successful. First, incentivize programs to use more effective tools, like evidence-based curricula and job-embedded coaching. Next, they recommend making the best science about preschool more accessible by updating and expanding the What Works Clearinghouse, a program supported by the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, the authors propose increasing the evidence around different issues and policies regarding preschool. 

The authors conclude with this: “Following the best science of early learning is critical for delivering on the promise of universal preschool for young children. This science can be connected to policy and practice in ways that help put all children on a path towards success in kindergarten and beyond.”

Read the entirety of the brief, “Evidence-Based Curricula and Job-Embedded Coaching for Teachers Promote Preschoolers’ Learning,” originally published by The Society for Research in Child Development, here.