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Jana Martella, from the Council of Chief State School Officers, describes the organization's use of data-driven efforts to help develop and integrate policy into the nation's school systems.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the nation's states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity (which educates the children of military service members and Department of Defense civilian employees), and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. The Council provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. It works to achieve member consensus and communicate its views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.

The Council has recently adopted a vision statement to support a system of schooling in each state that ensures high standards of performance for children and prepares each child to become a productive member of a democratic society. This lofty goal is supported by and rooted in CCSSO's core value of making data-based decisions. To that end, CCSSO leads efforts to conduct, analyze, and disseminate high quality research to promote effective practice and change for school systems.

Though the emphasis on scientific rigor might be new, the use of research to impact policy and support implementation of effective practices has been the foundation of much of CCSSO's work to date. This research-driven approach is reflected in CCSSO's policy statement on early childhood and family education, which emphasizes new opportunities derived from advances in early education research over the last 20 years. As the statement says:

Opportunity emanates from evidence from the fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and child development, that learning stretches from a child's first days. Research confirms what parents and teachers have long observed—that early learning creates the foundation for later achievement, and that efforts to strengthen K–12 education cannot succeed without a concerted effort to support the people and improve the programs entrusted with our youngest children.¹

The Council has formulated its project work in early childhood education grounded in the research and armed with this policy statement.

Project work is designed to help chief state school officers, with their agency staff and partners, to develop state policy based on sound evidence and to translate that policy into effective practice in their school systems, where what is known should translate into what is done. An example of this challenging, adaptive process can be found in CCSSO's Mid-Atlantic Early Childhood Education Network (MECEN). This 5-year project is sponsored by the Laboratory for Student Success, one of 10 Regional Educational Laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

The network consists of five state teams initially convened by their chief state school officers and comprised of multiagency and organization representatives. The teams meet twice a year as a “learning community” to systemically plan and develop successful early learning practices in their states. To date, they have focused on the following:

  • The quality and effects of early learning standards
  • The preparation and development of the early childhood education profession
  • The research on indicators of school readiness and the multidimensional supports to early learning provided by effective programming in health care, parental involvement, and transition

The recent economic downturn has created some challenge to getting investment from state policymakers. As a result, the MECEN has attended to financing and economic development strategies based on the multiple cost and benefit studies of high quality early childhood programming.

Evaluating our success is among the most important and challenging aspects of translating research into practice. As the MECEN early childhood project sets objectives for state programming, it is also developing ways to measure success. The state teams have considered learning outcomes of primary importance. They are therefore investigating the most effective accountability mechanisms, including key considerations on developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood assessment.

In addition, the teams are looking at how to rationalize their state education data systems so that the essential information needed to show longitudinal effects can be collected. MECEN members are also closely watching their colleagues in the 17-state School Readiness Indicators Initiative, as they conclude their work on the development of consensus benchmarks for school readiness. [An article describing this initiative, Identifying School Readiness Indicators to Stimulate Policy Action, is featured in this issue. —Ed.]

In the end, the successful implementation of sound, research-based policy and practice in early childhood education in the mid-Atlantic region and across the country will be tantamount to the realization of CCSSO's vision: success for all children in school and in life. Though it will take time, evidence supports the belief that we can get there from here.

Additional information about early childhood projects at CCSSO can be found at

¹ Council of Chief State School Officers. (1999). Early childhood and family education: New realities, new opportunities. A council policy statement. Washington, DC: Author.

Jana Martella
Project Director
Early Childhood and Family Education
Council of Chief State School Officers
One Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20001-1431
Tel: 202-336-7057

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