Closing Educational Opportunity Gaps Through Early Learning Policies in ESSA

By Madeleine Webster

Did you know that before entering kindergarten, low-income students are an average of about one year behind other students in math and reading? Did you know that African-American and Hispanic children begin kindergarten up to 13 months behind? These are gaps in both opportunity and achievement.

With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, NCSL convened 23 legislators and two legislative staff at a two-day seminar in Seattle in November to focus on early learning policy strategies to address these gaps.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal education law passed in 2015, there are new opportunities for states to renew their efforts to give each student a similar start to their education and to ensure that they do not fall behind once they enter kindergarten.

These policymakers dialogued with 12 national policy experts on the economics, data, research and policies related to opportunity gaps, comparing their own state data to national trends and workshopping ideas. Participants left the meeting with ideas, questions and next steps for when they return home, including the following policy options:

  • Improved data collection to support more robust accountability and reporting.
  • Adequate funding and tracking resources.
  • Importance of high-quality teaching.
  • Extra supports or wraparound services.
  • Strategies to support English Language Learners.

Copies of all PowerPoint presentations discussing these policy options can be found here.

Perhaps hearing some of the meeting takeaways has sparked some ideas for you as well.  To learn more about NCSL’s work on closing opportunity gaps through early learning opportunities in ESSA, please visit NCSL’s webpages on closing opportunity gaps and supporting early learning, or contact Madeleine Webster and Matt Weyer.

Madeleine Webster is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Education program.

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