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Anna Lovejoy, from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, describes how the organization helps keep governors informed about emerging research in early childhood.

“In God we trust, all others bring data.” The words of noted consultant W. Edwards Deming ring true for the nation's governors. Nowadays, research and evaluation data is crucial to identifying best practices and developing recommendations that are aligned with the goals and priorities of governors. Governors want to know what works before they make decisions; and they want proof that their decisions have achieved the intended impact. To support these efforts, policy analysts at the National Governors Association's (NGA) Center for Best Practices are doing the following:

  • Translating research findings into concise and familiar language
  • Providing objective analysis of the research
  • Assessing the pros and cons of particular policy options
  • Weighing the potential impact of particular policy changes to help governors make informed decisions

Over the last decade, the Center for Best Practices has kept governors abreast of emerging research in early childhood and helped bring issues in the field into the national spotlight. Momentum is building, thanks to the convergence of findings from brain research, longitudinal studies of early intervention programs, and recent evaluations of state and local programs. Governors are becoming increasingly aware that investments in high quality care and early learning opportunities can positively impact achievement and produce impressive long-term economic returns for society as a whole. This awareness is evidenced by early childhood messages in many of this year's State of the State addresses and high attendance at our recent Governors' Forum on Quality Preschool.

In today's fiscal climate, the demand for research-based policies and accountability has risen sharply. Governors are eager for data that will help them make the case for further investment to legislators, the policy community, and the public. They are concerned about closing the achievement gap, educating the future workforce, and supporting (not replacing) parents as children's most important teachers.

One key challenge is deciding where to focus limited resources among the range of policy options—preschool for 4-year-olds, child care quality improvements, home visiting programs, parent education efforts, or others. The Center relies on results to help identify true best practices and engages the research community to identify emerging issues and explore innovative policy solutions. Another challenge is convincing policymakers to set reasonable expectations and timeframes for measuring results, made difficult by the complexities of child development and the fact that comprehensive, longitudinal research and evaluation yield more powerful results in the long run.

In response to these challenges, NGA has sponsored a yearlong gubernatorial task force charged with developing a governors' guide to school readiness. Based on input from state policymakers and multiple experts, the final report will discuss the full range of options available to state policymakers for supporting children in the context of families, schools, and communities, and will include recommendations on school readiness assessment and evaluation policies.¹

The Center for Best Practices also draws on its experience to offer the following advice to the research community on communicating research and evaluation results to governors:

  • Identify areas of research that are relevant to today's policy challenges. Ask policymakers to identify pressing issues, and design studies to address specific and relevant policy questions. Whether and how to engage family child care providers to expand quality preschool opportunities and what leads to effective parent education programs are examples of the kinds of questions policymakers have begun to ask.

  • Be clear and up front with research findings. The reality is that governors and their staffs often do not have adequate time to analyze complex and lengthy research articles. A concise but thorough and accurate synopsis of the research, including key findings and policy recommendations, is the best way to break through the competing demands for their attention.

  • Clearly tie findings to specific and realistic policy recommendations. General recommendations (e.g., “increase investment in early childhood programs”) are less helpful than specific ideas on where to invest or what policy changes to make (e.g., “raise teacher salaries”or “set specific quality standards”). Give thought to the current fiscal and political context so policymakers can prioritize recommendations. Which ones are nonnegotiable to ensure positive results? Which ones should be implemented immediately?

  • Continue to conduct research. Large-scale policy change takes time and commitment from many stakeholders. We need continued research into best practices. Additionally, new perspectives from related fields of study (e.g., early childhood investment as an economic development strategy) can help inform policy and engage broader support.

To ensure that they stay on the cutting edge of early childhood policy, we at the NGA Center for Best Practices will continue to provide the nation's governors with guidance on these critical issues.

¹ Due out in fall 2004, this report will be available on the NGA website, at

Anna Lovejoy
Senior Policy Analyst
NGA Center for Best Practices
Education Division
444 North Capitol Street, Suite 267
Washington, DC 20001
Tel: 202-624-5331

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