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Early childhood is a period of great developmental changes, setting the foundation for later learning and development.

More than 50 years of research demonstrates the positive effects of high-quality early childhood education programs on school readiness and long-term outcomes. While there are many types of preschool programs and settings in the United States, the preschool curriculum is one of the critical tools to ensure that children experience early learning environments that promote joy and affirmation and provide enriched learning opportunities.

While today’s preschool programs provide supportive environments, their curricula often fall short in advancing children’s learning in math, early literacy, and science, and lack the supports necessary for fostering multilingual learners’ emerging bilingualism.

KEY FINDINGS

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    The United States has a wide variety of early preschool programs, from center-based care such as preschools, pre-kindergartens, and Head Start programs to home-based programs funded through a number of sources, including private tuition, foundation grants, and public funding.

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    Nearly one-third of young children in the United States are growing up with exposure to more than one language in the home and could be considered multilingual.

    About one-third of children in Head Start are multilingual learners, with more than 130 languages spoken. However, just 15% of the Early Care and Education workforce is multilingual.

    Full proficiency in both languages is associated with cognitive, cultural, social, and economic benefits. However, most states, school districts, and local programs have yet to develop a procedure for the accurate identification of multilingual learners, rarely provide dual language instruction, and have few bilingual early childhood education educators qualified to support home language development or provide dual language instruction.

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    Children who participate in high-quality preschool programs tend to have higher educational attainment, earnings, and health outcomes as well as less involvement with the criminal justice system as adults than those who do not enroll in preschool.

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    Reject false dichotomies in early education that narrow perspectives on curriculum and its potential benefits.

    Many discussions tend to phrase issues as tensions between two mutually exclusive alternatives, such as play versus academics or content teaching versus teaching the "whole child." Educators and developers need to move beyond dichotomizing these complex issues from either/or thinking to embrace both/and thinking.

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    The most effective curricula do not follow a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

    Most preschool programs, including Head Start and state preschool programs, use comprehensive preschool curricula—often required by their funding agencies—that intend to address all domains of children’s learning and development. But the most widely used of these have been studied and found repeatedly to be significantly less effective than playful, domain-specific curricula in improving children’s academic and social-emotional outcomes in the targeted domains.

The Preschool Landscape


The complexity of the current early childhood system and the diversity of program options leads to great variability in children’s preschool experiences.

Many children from historically marginalized communities—Black, Latine, and Indigenous children, multilingual learners, children with disabilities, and children experiencing poverty—are less likely to have access to high-quality early learning opportunities. When these children do have access to preschool, they are also more likely to be enrolled in programs that are underfunded and have less qualified teachers.

Preschool curriculum is key to shaping instructional quality, classroom processes, and children’s early learning during development. Curriculum identifies what to teach, the content children are to learn, the goals for children’s learning and development, intentional teaching strategies, and needed instructional materials.

The Vision for High-Quality Preschool Curricula


The committee’s vision for developing high-quality preschool curricula considers the learning experiences that each child has access to, the varied opportunities to experience engaging content that can spark their curiosity and desire to learn, and the ways in which learning can be adapted to support the child and their individual needs.

A high-quality preschool curriculum should:

  • Incorporate the perspectives, experiences, cultures, languages, strengths, and needs of a diverse range of children, families, and workforce settings;
  • Include rich and meaningful content that centers child engagement and agency;
  • Include well-designed learning experiences, intentional responsive teaching strategies, well-defined objectives and outcomes, embedded formative assessments and differentiation based on understanding children's ability levels, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, interests, and dispositions;
  • Have a scope and sequence that follows children's ways of thinking and learning with research-validated learning trajectories, are culturally and linguistically affirming, and include effective supports for children with disabilities; and
  • Demonstrate effectiveness in yielding positive school and life outcomes for the children and families they are intended to reach.

Key Recommendations

  • Equity-Driven Preschool CurriculaGuidance for Content Design, Development, Selection, and Implementation
    • In the next 5 years:
      • Federal agencies, state and school district policy makers, foundations and funders, publishers, and teacher educators should support the revision of existing curricula and development of new curricula to align with the committee’s vison.
      • Program leaders should transition to adopting and implementing evidence-validated curricula that, when integrated coherently, support the learning and development of the whole child and address outcomes such as children’s creativity, positive identity, curiosity, and emergent bilingualism.
      • Researchers and curriculum developers should encourage the development and evaluation of appropriate criteria and metrics for assessing racial, cultural, linguistic, and ability biases and outcomes.
      • Funders should support the development of new, or revision of existing, child assessment measures aligned with the committee’s vision that consider the role of bias (e.g., race, language, culture, disability status) and capture the full range of meaningful child outcomes and experiences.
    • From the outset, curriculum developers, in partnership with researchers and teacher educators, should develop curricula and supporting materials in Spanish, English, and other languages commonly spoken by children with a home language other than English.
  • Empowering EducatorsSupports and Professional Development for Equitable and Effective Curriculum Implementation
    • Curriculum developers should incorporate resources and structures that help teachers gain knowledge about effective teaching strategies and practices, including bolstering content knowledge and understanding how children’s thinking and learning can be best supported. They should also provide scaffolded supports, developed in partnership with researchers and teacher educators, that increase opportunities for effectively integrating children with disabilities in general education early childhood settings while effectively meeting their unique developmental needs and fostering healthy peer relationships.
    • Early childhood educators should collaborate with families to co-construct curricular components that are meaningful and relevant for all children in the classroom; authentically elevate the role of families in supporting their children’s development, recognize the diversity in and value of family practices and integrate these practices when possible; honor their languages, cultures, beliefs, traditions, and talents; and invite these assets into the classroom. 
    • Program leaders and policymakers should ensure that educators receive professional development, regular in-classroom coaching, and access to the materials that are necessary for the implementation of evidence-based curricula.
  • Investing in EquityFunding Mechanisms, Policy Strategies, and Innovations to Support Selection and Implementation of Effective Preschool Curricula
    • The U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state early childhood education agencies, should:
      • Create a research-practice-partnership network of diverse researchers and early childhood programs;
      • Create a data system to capture details on curricula being used in programs;
      • Align quality metrics, measures, and rating systems with the new vision of curricula and associated practices;
      • Incentivize the adoption and use of high-quality curricula that are in alignment with the new vision; and
      • Provide quality improvement supports and resources to address equity and inclusion gaps.
    • As curricula aligned with the committee’s vision are adopted and implemented, state and local early care and education agencies and public education institutions should:
      • Develop policies, provide technical assistance, and target funding to support ongoing professional development for educators and to address high staffing turnover rates experienced across the country in early childhood programs; and
      • Identify opportunities to expand children’s access to schools, communities, and programs that implement these curricula and associated practices.
  • Bridging the Knowledge GapCreating an Evidence Base to Advance Curriculum Development and Implementation
    • In the next five years, publishers should collect and provide rigorous and meaningful evidence of improved short- and long-term academic and developmental outcomes for all children, with particular attention to Black, Latine, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific Islander children; multilingual learners; children with disabilities; and children living in poverty. They should also document the experiences of children in grades K–2 and determine whether there is coherence in the curricular vision across the transition from preschool to these early grades.
    • Researchers should continue to conduct rigorous evaluations of curriculum approaches, along with implementation research, to assess the extent to which curricula promote children’s holistic and healthy development and learning.
    • Over the next 5–10 years, relevant federal agencies, states, and philanthropy should invest in ongoing research aimed at developing implementation systems to support the transition to evidence-based curricula that are practical and accessible.
  • A Research Agenda

    The report calls for a comprehensive research agenda to address the current gaps in understanding of the components, criteria, and features of high-quality preschool curricula.

    To develop, implement, and evaluate preschool curricula through an equitable framework, research objectives should:

    • Enhance resources to understand and document curriculum effectiveness study conditions;
    • Standardize methodologies and approaches; and
    • Adopt a collaborative science approach for addressing questions of critical scientific and policy relevance.

Looking Forward


While curriculum in and of itself will not solve all the challenges faced in early education, it does play a critical role to ensure that children, through their interactions with teachers, other adults, and children in the learning environment will experience safe, healthy, affirming, and enriching learning opportunities that promote success in school and life.

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