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Origins of These Statements

The statements on these pages were derived from a project to generate a small number of succinct, evidence-based statements that could be used by policymakers and other leaders promoting the importance of quality in pre-K. The theory of change behind the project was the following: If a critical mass of diverse early childhood stakeholders can find common ground on indispensable practices and policies for high-quality pre-K, then policymakers can have more confidence in supporting and promoting these policies that advance high-quality pre-K and stronger teacher practice.

The idea of generating these statements came from five philanthropies with a dedication to improving outcomes for young children: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Public dissemination of the project’s result is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. New America, a non-partisan think tank, led the meetings and the dissemination work.

The process started with a series of in-depth interviews and daylong meetings in 2016 that involved more than 30 national leaders in early childhood who had expertise in pre-K. (Pre-K was defined as a learning program for children ages 3 and 4. See more about this definition and others below.) The meetings included internationally recognized researchers, leaders for national membership and advocacy organizations in early childhood, and analysts at research and policy institutes with varying perspectives. To prepare for the meetings, New America enlisted School Readiness Consulting to write a standards and research review that analyzed program standards and quality pre-K frameworks to find common themes among them. Several respected standards and benchmarks documents were incorporated into that review, including the performance standards published by Head Start, the benchmarks used by the National Institute for Early Education Research’s Preschool Yearbook, the 15 Essential Elements that emerged from an analysis published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and more. New America published the review in 2017 as Indispensable Policies & Practices for High-Quality Pre-K: A Research and Standards Review.

The meetings crystallized the need to zoom in on and explicitly name teaching and learning as a defining aspect of a quality pre-K experience. Attendees agreed that a pre-K setting cannot be labeled as “quality” and certainly not as “high quality” without an intentional focus on teaching and learning. Yet, too often, policymakers, practitioners, and parents have had to sift through a multitude of interpretations of “high quality” as it relates to pre-K teaching and learning.  

The results of these meetings can be found in the five principles (below). The principles helped the group generate more specifics for indispensable practices and policies.

In the spring of 2018, New America convened an advisory group with expertise in equity across early learning (see list of participants below) to review plans for dissemination and guide the use of these messages with the eye toward ensuring that any new or augmented pre-K policies are designed to ensure children of color and children in low-income households are not left out or harmed. The Alliance for Early Success is publishing this package of 3+3 Indispensables to facilitate widespread dissemination to state-level policymakers and advocates across the country.


For children to thrive, their pre-K classrooms and programs must provide effective teaching that leads to meaningful learning. Effective teaching is not possible without a commitment to these five principles:

  1. Teachers​ need to have the preparation, knowledge, skills, compensation, and resources that enable them to effectively apply the full range of professional competencies* and must be supported to participate in ongoing professional learning that helps them improve upon those competencies.
  2. Teachers and families need to be supported by instructional leaders​ who are well-compensated and have the preparation, knowledge, skills, and resources to facilitate a culture of learning and are also supported to participate in ongoing professional learning.
  3. Comprehensive standards, assessment, and curricula​ must be aligned and grounded in early childhood development, cover all domains of learning, and be well implemented and seamlessly connected to what comes before and after pre-K.
  4. A system for continuous improvement​ is necessary to ensure effective teaching and learning driven by the use of meaningful data that guides practice and policy at all levels.
  5. Public financing​ must be in place that reflects the true cost per child, ensures equitable access, and is sustained over time at an adequate level to support high-quality pre-K in a way that does not reduce the availability of quality care and education for children under age three. This requires a bold reimagining of who is eligible and how to pay for public pre-K across systems.

*For the full range of professional competencies, see pp. 328-329 of the consensus report published in 2015 by the National Academies Press, Transforming the Workforce for Children from Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. These competencies include working with families.


This project to achieve agreement on indispensable policies and practices for quality pre-K was not making a judgment on whether pre-K should be universally available or targeted; policies and practices that lead to high-quality teaching and learning are necessary in either case. Nor was it designed to identify policies that promote children’s health and well-being; many families need public programs that provide comprehensive services (such as Head Start, with its inclusion of nutritious meals, dental checks, etc.) and those services can promote conditions that make learning more likely. However, since a child may have all of those services and still not experience high-quality teaching and learning, those services and policies rest outside the scope of this project.

While this project focused specifically on programs for children at ages 3 and 4, it is not intended to disregard the critical importance of investing in and improving policies for children in their first years of life (birth through 3) nor does it ignore the significant need to align and improve policies and practices for children in kindergarten through third grade. As discussed in the background research and noted in Indispensable Policy 3, children will learn and develop best when there is continuity and an emphasis on continuous quality improvement across the birth-through-8 age span of early childhood.


Below are the definitions of key terms used throughout the project.

A pre-kindergarten or pre-K setting is one that employs well-prepared  teachers to organize and facilitate educational experiences in a classroom or learning center for children who are a year or two away from kindergarten; thus, typically the children are 3 or 4 years old. Many states and other entities also use the label “preschool.”

This project focused on determining indispensable policies and practices for programs that receive public funding, regardless of whether those programs are administered by schools, school districts, community-based organizations, or other organizations. This includes state- and locally-funded pre-K, school-district-funded pre-K, and Head Start.

Teaching refers to the practices of adults who are responsible for ensuring that the children in their classrooms are learning. Teaching competencies include the skills and knowledge needed to recognize individual children’s needs and interests across multiple domains (see learning, below); scaffold children’s experiences to promote learning; and work with children’s families to enhance classroom learning as well as promote learning outside of pre-K.

For the purposes of this project, learning refers primarily to children’s learning. Learning is another way of saying that a child is growing and developing within and across multiple domains, including social-emotional and cognitive domains.

This project uses the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of indispensable: “not subject to being set aside or neglected;” absolutely necessary.

Lack of disagreement; a point against which no one in the room would actively argue.


Below is a list of attendees at one or both of the meetings hosted by New America in the fall of 2016 who agreed to the principles and indispensable practices and policies and would not actively argue against them.  Organization names reflect the attendees’ affiliation at the time of the meetings.


StevenBarnettNational Institute for Early Education Research
LoriConnors-TadrosCenter on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes
MarquitaDavisJefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity
LibbyDoggettU.S. Department of Education
StevenDowCAP Tulsa
DaleEpsteinChild Trends
DanielleEwenEducation Counsel
DaleFarranVanderbilt University
KathyGlazerVirginia Early Childhood Foundation
BridgetHamreUniversity of Virginia
StevenHicksU.S. Department of Education
LaurenHoganNational Association for the Education of Young Children
PamHowell-BeachStranahan Foundation
JacquelineJonesFoundation for Child Development
AshleyLiBettiBellwether Education Partners
JackMcCarthyAppletree Institute
StephanieMillerTrust for Learning
JohnPruetteOffice of Early Learning, Public Schools of North Carolina
ElliotRegensteinOunce of Prevention Fund
SarahRittlingFirst Five Years Fund
LindaSmithAdministration for Children and Families
YasminaVinciNational Head Start Association
JoshWallackNew York Department of Education
AlbertWatAlliance for Early Success
SimonWorkmanCenter for American Progress
SaraVecchiottiFoundation for Child Development
JennaConwayLouisiana Department of Education
EllenFredeBill & Melinda Gates Foundation
RaulGonzalezBill & Melinda Gates Foundation
LisaLazarusGeorge Kaiser Family Foundation
SusanMuenchowAmerican Institutes for Research
RickMocklerNational Head Start Association

Equity Advisory Group

The following individuals took part in an equity advisory group in spring 2018 to provide guidance on dissemination and framing of the practices and policies:

  • Cemeré James, National Black Child Development Institute
  • Nakeshia Knight-Coyle, Oregon Department of Early Learning
  • Delia Pompa, Migration Policy Institute
  • Rosita Ramirez, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO)
  • Syritha Robinson, the Education Trust