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Early Ed: Weak Link in State Data Chain

Despite millions of federal dollars pushing states to create data systems that would track children from preschool through high school and college, states are still struggling to include their youngest students, says a report released Friday by the New America Foundation.

Over the last five years, the federal government has invested roughly $515 million to help states build and expand longitudinal data systems. The latest round of funding, $250 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), went to 20 states in May 2010 and required states to link data on early-childhood programs and the traditional K-12 system.

But states are still struggling to capture the early-childhood data, largely because young kids attend preschool through a variety of programs: state-subsidized child care, Head Start, state-funded pre-K, and private preschool. Although states are beginning to track students in their pre-K programs, children receiving early education elsewhere mostly aren't in the data.

"There are no examples, to our knowledge, of any states that have incorporated data from the diverse array of early-childhood programs into their K-12 longitudinal data systems," write the authors of the report, Laura Bornfreund, policy analyst, and Maggie Severns, program associate for the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

The Data Quality Campaign, which has tracked state efforts to build K-12 data systems and link them with colleges, is now tracking state efforts on preschool, too. Click on the pdf link that corresponds to Element One on this page to see state responses to its survey asking whether they have "unique identifiers" (an ID number) for children in various types of early-learning programs. While many states have or are developing IDs for specific early-learning programs, few can give a hard deadline by which early-learning IDs will be linked into the K-12 system.

If you want to hear more on this issue, you can watch a video of the briefing held Friday morning in Washington, D.C. (Warning, it's an hour and a half of video.)

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