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Putting the Pieces Together
New York Early Learning Program Data Systems

Authors: J. Lee Kreader and William Schneider
Publication Date: February 2011

Across the country, states are recognizing the great value of coordinated data systems to inform and improve their early childhood policies and programs. Prepared for New York's Early Childhood Advisory Council, this report represents a big first step toward creation of a coordinated early childhood data system for that state. Based on surveys of New York State and New York City agencies providing early learning services to young children, the report pulls together baseline information on the data each presently maintains on their programs, workforce, and the children and families they serve.

This is an excerpt from the full report.

Data collected by state and local agencies on young children and the programs serving them have enormous potential value. Families, service providers, policymakers, researchers, advocates and others can use these data to better understand children’s needs, improve access to services, strengthen services, enhance the efficiency of services, and understand the short- and long-term impacts of services. In New York, as in most other states, this potential has gone largely unrealized. Early childhood data have typically been maintained in silos by agency and service – and sometimes by region – frustrating efforts to draw comprehensive, point-in-time pictures and comparisons. Usually, too, data have not been available longitudinally, hampering ability to follow children and services over time. All too frequently, data systems are under developed and fail to collect all the data that is needed for research and policy and program decisions.

Recently, however, momentum to link early childhood data across agencies and across time is gathering in the states. A few pioneers – including Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania – have begun to integrate data systems for their state-funded prekindergarten and child care subsidy systems – linking child, program, and personnel databases. These states are also looking to develop linkages with other systems, notably health. Earlier, several states – including Wisconsin, South Carolina – built “data warehouses” to store, link, and provide access to historical data on services to children and adults.

Federal actions are stimulating this movement. State Early Childhood Advisory Councils, established under the Head Start Reauthorization Act of 2008, are charged with developing recommendations for “establishing or improving core elements of the State early childhood system, such as a statewide unified data collection system.” Statewide Longitudinal Data System grants, begun in 2001, at first focused on elementary and secondary education, but more recent grants, like New York’s that began in 2010, include links to preschool data. Further, as a condition of receiving State Fiscal Stabilization Funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, all state education agencies have committed to build statewide longitudinal data systems to follow individual students from pre-school, through K-12 and postsecondary education, and into the workforce. Also, states successful in the Race to the Top education grant competition, including New York in 2010, had to show “significant progress” toward development of longitudinal P-20 data systems.

A consortium of national organizations, the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, has convened to help states build, link, and use early childhood data systems. One of the Collaborative’s first efforts has been to articulate a set of key policy questions that a well-crafted early childhood data system can help answer. Their initial questions focus on early care and education data, while anticipating subsequent links to data on other services.

  • Are children, birth through age 5, on track to succeed when they enter school and beyond?
  • Which children have access to high-quality early care and education programs?
  • Is the quality of programs improving?
  • What are the characteristics of effective programs?
  • How prepared is the early care and education workforce to provide effective education and care for all children?
  • What policies and investments lead to a skilled and stable early care and education workforce?
  • Over time, the Collaborative encourages states also to include data from programs to document the full costs of providing early care and education services.

This report represents an important first step to help New York answer these questions through a coordinated early childhood data system.