Center for the Study of Social Policy - 40 Years of Innovation
Ideas Into Action

Early Learning Nation

Supporting the Creation of an Early Learning Nation
A Joint Project of the National League of Cities Institute and Center for the Study of Social Policy – Early Childhood-LINC 

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and the National League of Cities Institute (NLCI) have joined forces to help cities and counties across the country become Early Learning Communities, helping to achieve a vision of the United States becoming an Early Learning Nation by 2025. With funding from the Bezos Family Foundation over the next two years, CSSP and NLCI will continue to work with two intersecting networks of communities with strong track records in early childhood systems building to support their innovative work and to develop materials that will help other communities follow in their footsteps. The goal is to create what has been a missing ingredient in the early childhood field: a systematic way to learn and share with the field how to “put all the pieces together” at the local level to help young children thrive. 

From 2016-2018, CSSP and NLCI will both “go deep” with our current community cohorts and explore “going broad” to expand the work to cities and counties across the country – forming a larger nucleus of an Early Learning Nation. Since the project’s inception in 2015, nine communities in CSSP’s Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC), as well as seven cities convened by NLC, have been engaged in helping us define, describe and better understand what it takes to build an Early Learning Community. The resulting report, Early Learning Communities: Building Blocks for Success, released in 2016, describes four key building blocks that make up an Early Learning Community:

  • Community leadership, commitment and public will to make young children and their families a priority
  • Quality services that work for young  children and their families
  • Neighborhoods where families can thrive
  • Policies that support families                                          

The “building blocks” report also describes the critical role of effective leadership, use of data to drive change, sustainable financial backing and supports for service providers – all elements of how local leaders put the pieces together to ensure that the building blocks are in place, supported and achieving positive results. This one-page handout summarizes the building blocks of early learning communities. 

Over the next two years, CSSP and NLCI will work with city and county leaders in our respective networks to identify and share actionable steps that leaders can take to strengthen each of the building blocks in their communities, as well as a progress rating tool for communities to gauge their progress toward becoming Early Learning Communities. In addition, CSSP will continue to work with members of the EC-LINC network to further develop, implement and disseminate a continuous quality improvement approach for early childhood systems, based on a common dashboard of indicators of progress currently being refined.


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