Creating strong foundations for early learning.
Our goal: Increase the likelihood that all children enter kindergarten “ready to learn” and experience early school success.
The early years of a child’s life are a critical time for learning, but we know that fewer than half of all kindergarteners come to school kindergarten-ready, with significant disparities by race and income. Parents and caregivers are deeply committed to giving their children the strongest possible start, but may not have access to the resources they need to maximize children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Our Early Impact portfolio funds direct impact and ecosystem organizations that support families and early learning environments in expanding their use of evidence-based practices that are proven to make a difference in the early lives of children, setting them on the path toward early and later school success.
Early childhood plays a critical role in later school success.
According to a 2020 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, kindergarten readiness can have an impact on how successful a child is in high school and beyond, leading to better grades and lower dropout rates as well as better health and lifestyle habits. Children who enter school with key readiness skills have an 82 percent chance of mastering basic skills by age 11, compared with 45 percent for young children who are not “kindergarten ready.” Yet many children face barriers that prevent a strong start. By the time children from low-income families begin school, many already score significantly lower than their peers on reading and math achievement tests.
There is widespread underinvestment and fragmentation in early childhood.
We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age five, making this the most critical period of a person’s life. Yet only six percent of public education spending, six percent of edtech investments, and four percent of education philanthropy are spent on the early years. This is in large part due to extreme fragmentation in this space: 51 percent of children are in center-based care, 20 percent are in parent-only care, and 39 percent are in non-center-based care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated disparities among our nation’s youngest learners.
At the end of the 2020-21 school year, 50 percent of Hispanic kindergarteners and 48 percent of Black kindergarteners needed intensive intervention compared to 25 percent of White kindergarteners. These statistics have massive implications given that kindergarten-ready children are more likely to master basic skills by age 11, less likely to drop out of high school, and more likely to reach middle class status by age 40.
The early childhood sector is struggling to attract or retain enough providers to meet demand.
A 2021 survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that 81 percent of child care providers cited low pay as the key motivation for educators leaving the field—national average wages are $24,000/year. Child care employment continues to be 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels, even as private-sector employment has rebounded from the job losses caused by COVID.
The pandemic and decrease in childcare options mean parents need more support.
Families are navigating unprecedented health, emotional, and economic uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the parenting practice and mindset gains of the last 30 years at risk. Measures of parental distress including stress, loneliness, anxiousness, and depression have all significantly increased since pre-COVID. Parents report increased concerns about their children’s social and emotional development and well-being, in addition to negative changes in children’s behaviors—61 percent of parents say their child’s social-emotional development has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, 64 percent of parents say federal policy makers need to do more to address challenges experienced while raising an infant or toddler.
Parent coaching, even when virtual, can be effective in impacting parent behavior and child outcomes that are predictive of kindergarten readiness.
Expectant mothers who participate in Centering Healthcare Institute’s group coaching, which takes place through prenatal healthcare visits, show a 33 percent to 47 percent decreased risk of preterm birth, better attendance for prenatal and postpartum visits, and greater readiness for birth and infant care than those in traditional care. And grantees such as LENA and I-LABS have shown the ability of technology-informed coaching to improve parent and child language interactions, suggesting that coaching can be effective at improving both short and long-term child language outcomes, even when it’s virtual.
There is continued demand for improved teacher-family communication and engagement, and family engagement solutions are delivering on student outcomes.
Demand for grantees who provide a way for teachers to connect with families grew dramatically since the start of the pandemic, and this trend has only continued. In 2022, TalkingPoints grew its reach 47 percent year over year, while Springboard Collaborative grew its reach by 57 percent year over year. Literacy assessment data showed that Springboard Collaborative core programming delivered an average of 3.1 months of reading growth in five weeks for students, and students at TalkingPoints schools whose families engaged with the platform had higher test scores, better grades, and lower absenteeism rates. Ninety-seven percent of educators who use TalkingPoints reported that it was helpful in improving student behavior, engagement, and outcomes.
Learn more about some of the work funded by the Early Impact portfolio.
Centering Healthcare Institute
Improving children’s outcomes through group-based prenatal and pediatric healthcare.
Generating knowledge to help parents support children’s early language development.
Improving early language skills through “talk pedometer” technology.
Connecting home and school to close the early literacy gap.
Scaling the use of AI-powered translation to strengthen teachers’ connections to non-English speaking families.
Tools of the Mind
Building children’s executive function skills through teacher professional development focused on purposeful play.
Increasing access to high-quality Pre-K education for students across the country.
Develop and scale sustainable parent support programs that improve healthy birth outcomes and increase family readiness to support child development and early school success.
Improve Early Learning Environments
Improve the quality of early learning environments by increasing the availability of high-quality instructional materials and aligned professional development, family engagement solutions, and push-in supports that increase adult to child ratios.
Spread Best Practices
Accelerate the spread of best practices in early childhood through knowledge generation, measurement improvement, and field building.
What types of early learning curricula (supplemental, comprehensive, and subject-specific) are the most scalable with positive impact?
What impact do reappraisal interventions have on emotional resilience in early education settings, how long will the effects last, and is there potential to impact other outcomes?