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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Heather Weiss

Today we know much more about how young children develop and about how early childhood programs can make a difference than ever before. We know this in large part because of lessons learned from over 40 years of collecting data. While this issue of The Evaluation Exchange reinforces the fact that we have this knowledge, it also challenges us to think about why we have not come farther in helping to improve many children's lives and increase their chances for success. Too many young children are impacted by an achievement gap, particularly children of color who live in poverty. But why does the achievement gap persist to such an extent when we have data that tell us how it can be decreased?

In this issue of The Evaluation Exchange, we shine a spotlight on early childhood studies and the achievement gap in a time of increasing accountability. Authors contributing to this issue offer divergent perspectives; appreciating and addressing these differences may help us better understand what we know, how we came to know it, what else we need to know, and what we should do to address one of the key policy questions of the day: Are we leaving any children behind?

Leading us in this inquiry is our guest editor for this issue, Lisa Klein. Lisa, a well-known colleague in the early childhood community, graciously accepted our invitation to provide guidance and expertise in the development of this issue. We thank her for her considerable effort and for what we believe to be an outstanding collection of articles.

The complexities of how children learn and grow are matched by the complexities of designing measures and methods for evaluating their progress. Early childhood evaluation must extend beyond understanding child outcomes to understanding the multiple factors that contribute to those outcomes. Contributors urge us to understand early childhood as a comprehensive system of supports for children and families.

Articles describe evaluations used as learning tools for program improvement and rigorous experimental and control research designs used for ultimate impact analysis. Again we address the challenge of how to make data relevant and useful to those who influence programs and policies for young children and families.

Taken together, the articles in this issue emphasize that children’s development is impacted by the context in which they live—their families, educational settings, communities, and broader society. Education in early learning settings is part of a continuum that includes schools and out-of-school time programs as well; and achievement hinges on this entire spectrum of supports.

Experts in early childhood are united in the desire to close the achievement gap and prepare young children for success in school. They do, however, have different ideas about the available evidence and the evidence still needed to make decisions for program or policy action. With this installment of The Evaluation Exchange, we hope to provide food for thought as the early childhood field continues to grapple with these difficult issues. As always, we welcome your thoughts and contributions.

Heather B. Weiss, Ed.D.
Founder & Director
Harvard Family Research Project

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project