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Key National Education Indicators 2 Indicators for Preschool The period from birth to age 5 is critical to children’s development and to their success in school. As Ana Gutierrez noted, “if we don’t get preschool right we’re not going to get the rest of it right.” Disparities in the cognitive and social skills necessary for school that are evident by the time children reach kindergarten are likely to affect their progress throughout their schooling, and often intensify (Haskins and Rouse, 2005). Decisions to fund preschool in many states are among the evidence that the importance of early education has become better recognized, but gaps in access to and the quality of early education persist (Magnuson, et al., 2004).7 One reason for the gaps is that the early childhood sector is complex (National Research Council, 2011b). Providers of care and education vary significantly across many dimensions, including how they are funded, the preparation and qualifications of their staffs, and the nature and quality of the experiences they provide to children and families. Providers are regulated by the states so there is also variety in the rules and requirements that govern them, though national organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children have worked to develop uniform guidelines for professional practice. Every state now has a council focused on developing data systems to cover early childhood, noted Steve Barnett, but this work is just beginning. These councils are “trying to figure out what data they should collect, how they should collect it, and how to bring together information across multiple government agencies into a single system,” he added, so there is still time to influence them. A national indicator system that addresses preschool would have an important influence, not just on state data collection, but policy in general, he and others agreed. All of the indicators suggested for the preschool stage are listed in Table 2-1. The sections below describe the presenters’ suggestions in greater detail. 7The steering committee recognized that parents and the home environment play a key role in children’s development. However, the task was to focus on education, assuming that the needs of families would be addressed elsewhere in the indicator system, though some contextutal factors were addressed at the workshop.
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Key National Education Indicators TABLE 2-1 Indicators Suggested for the Preschool Stage CHARACTERISTICS OF INSTITUTIONS, SERVICE PROVIDERS, AND RESOURCES Use and availability of care and education outside the home, including: • Percentage of young children receiving early care and education outside the home by age 3 or 4 • Type of care used by preschoolers, and the amount of it they have per week • Percentage of children in two age ranges (0 to 3 and 3 to 5) receiving different types of early care (center-based, child-care home, or informal) Index of the quality of care and education programs. Possibilities include • Spending per child at each age (year of life prior to kindergarten entry), nationally and at the state level • Child-to-staff ratio or teacher characteristics (qualifications) • Direct measure, through observation, of the environment and practices in programs • Programs in which interactions are warm and stimulating, curricula have scope and sequence, children’s progress is monitored, and staff receive intensive coaching • Percentage of parents whose early childhood care and education providers interact with them in a productive way • Percentage of childcare and education settings (by type) that provide emotionally supportive, cognitively stimulating care INDIVIDUAL OUTCOMES Indicator of children’s language (not only in English), academic, attention, and social skills as they enter school and possibly at age 3—a NAEP-like assessment could be used CONTEXT Measures of the home environment and early experiences. Possibilities include • number of parents who demonstrate (or number of children who experience) responsive, sensitive interactions • children who experience secure attachments with caregivers • percent of families that provide (or percent of children who receive) enriching and stimulating home environments • percent of families with multiple risk factors • number of children or families receiving health, mental health, and social services Index of children’s prenatal exposure to hazards Family demographics
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Key National Education Indicators CHARACTERISTICS OF INSTITUTIONS, SERVICE PROVIDERS, AND RESOURCES8 Use and Availability of Early Care and Education Outside the Home A starting point for tracking early education is to have a clear measure of how many and which children are enrolled in programs and the nature of those programs. Parents are the strongest influences on young children’s learning and development (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002), Barnett explained, but it is clear that high quality preschool education can have substantive and lasting impacts on learning and development (Barnett, 2011; Camilli et al., 2010; and Vandell et al., 2010).9 He advocated tracking the percentage of young children receiving early care and education outside the home by age 3 or 4. The most commonly cited data on program participation are from the Current Population Survey, the National Household Education Surveys program (NHES), and the decennial census (American Community Survey), Barnett noted. These sources provide very different estimates, perhaps because of differences in how and when they ask questions about enrollment, as well as differences in definitions of age spans and program types. A single, accurate count is badly needed, in Barnett’s view, and it should be disaggregated by age, income, ethnicity, geography and, if possible, type of program. There are large differences in participation by child and family background characteristics as well as location. There are also important differences between centerand home-based programs, and there is wide variation in quality (see National Research Council, 2011b for discussion of this issue). Barnett focused on the number of children receiving any type of care, but Margaret Burchinal suggested that it is also important to measure the type and number of institutions, service providers, and resources that are available, using the data sources Barnett had mentioned. She suggested documenting the type of care used by preschoolers and the amount of it they have per week (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002). Similarly, Deborah Vandell suggested tracking the percentage of children in two age ranges, 0 to 3 and 3 to 5, by the different types of care they receive, center based, home based, or informal.10 She noted that these three basic types capture some of the extreme range in quality of child care and education. She also noted that center-based care, such as Head Start or formal pre-K programs, has been shown to benefit children in terms of cognitive development and academic performance at entry to preschool. Low-income children are less likely to attend high quality programs, she 8The discussion of the indicators in this and other chapters follows the broad structure of the steering committee’s framework, but the indicators suggested for each stage fell naturally into different arrangements. When possible, similar indicators are discussed together under a general heading, with specific ones highlighted with italic text. 9The effects are generally larger for cognitive than for social and emotional domains, Barnett noted, but the latter may be more difficult to measure effectively. 10Researchers distinguish among (1) center-based child care, which is provided in a facility that may or not be part of a larger institution; (2) home-based childcare, in which a paid provider cares for one or more children in a private home (generally distinguished from arrangements where babysitters or nannies work in the child’s own home); and (3) kith and kin care, which is care provided by relatives or friends, who may or may not be paid. Kith and kin care is not subject to state licensing standards.
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Key National Education Indicators added, and it is important to have a clear picture of variations in quality and access. In addition to NHES, she noted, the Survey of Income and Program Participation could be used for this purpose. Quality of Care and Education Programs The quality of programs is an essential determinant of their effectiveness, Barnett argued, and access to quality programs varies by age, family background, and geography (Barnett et al., 2010; Camilli et al., 2010; Karoly et al., 2008; Pianta et al., 2009). Parents do not have an easy time distinguishing quality, he noted, so even high-income children may be enrolled in “pretty poor quality places,” he added. Quality is complex, however, and current measures are far from satisfactory, he added (see Burchinal, Kainz, and Cai, 2011). The National Institute for Early Education Research publishes an annual report that includes data on spending for child care and education, teacher-child ratios, and other indicators, but in Barnett’s view, these data do not provide a picture of all preschool programs. A composite index is likely to be most useful for this purpose, in Barnett’s view, because no one measure would capture the important aspects of quality. He suggested a few possibilities: spending per child at each age (year of life prior to kindergarten entry), nationally and at the state level; child-to-staff ratio or teacher characteristics (qualifications); and direct measure, through observation, of the environment and practices in programs. Direct observation is complex and expensive, he acknowledged, but it probably offers the strongest potential for capturing the key components of quality. Burchinal also focused on the quality of the programs and providers that are available, arguing that this information is essential to addressing the achievement gaps among groups of children. She observed that such simple indicators as teacher-child ratios and teacher credentials show only very modest relationships with outcomes for children, so even though they are the easiest to use, they are “not really great indicators” (Burchinal, Kainz, and Cai, 2011). She focused instead on what has been shown to affect outcomes and suggested measuring the extent to which: • caregivers provide frequent interactions with all children that are warm, responsive, and linguistically rich (see, e.g., Burchinal et al., 2010; Gormley et al., 2005; Grindal et al., 2011; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Shager et al., 2011;Vandell et al., 2010); • programs implement focused curricula with scope and sequence and monitor children’s progress (see Clements and Sarama, 2008; Fantuzzo, Gadsden, and McDermott, 2010; Bierman, Nix, Greenberg, Blair, and Domitrovich, 2008); • programs identify children who are not making adequate progress and provide interventions for them (Buysse and Peisner-Feinburg, 2010; Fox, Carta, Strain, Dunlap, and Hemmeter, 2010); and • programs use intensive coaching linked to their curriculum or to promote highquality teacher-child interactions (Pianta, Mashburn, Downer, Hamre, and Justice 2007; Powell, Diamond, Burchinal, and Koehler, 2010; Vernon-Feagans, Kainz, Amendum, Ginsberg, Wood, and Bock, 2012).
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Key National Education Indicators Many early care and education systems11 do monitor some or all of these features, Burchinal pointed out. For example, the Head Start program uses the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). Also useful, she suggested, would be Head Start’s Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) and the Performance Information Report (PIR) that is conducted in every program. About two-thirds of states have quality rating and improvement systems, Burchinal added, and more than half include an observational rating system designed to measure caregiver responsiveness and program stimulation (Tout et al., 2010). Many state pre-K programs also include an evaluation that measures quality using an observational rating system, and many states also have quality rating and improvement systems for child care and education programs. She also suggested that a NAEP-based program could be useful in the preschool context, as discussed below. A related indicator suggested by Sue Sheridan was the percentage of parents whose early childhood care and education providers interact with them in a way that is planned and collaborative and supports the development of learning goals and the successful navigation of the transitions into kindergarten and elementary school. She noted that children who experience discontinuity between home and school are at risk for decreased academic performance, and that, conversely, positive partnerships between professionals and families produce positive changes in the family environment, parent-child relationship, parenting skills, and family involvement in children’s learning (Caspe and Lopez, 2006; Grolnick and Slowiaczek, 1994; Masten and Coatsworth, 1998; Phelan, Davidson, and Yu, 1998; Sheridan, Bovaird, Glover, Garbacz, Witte, and Kwon, in press; Turnbull et al., 2011). Positive interactions also develop patterns and influence parenting and developmental trajectories for children showing early signs of educational risk, she added (Jung 2010; Turnbull et al., 1999). Vandell approached the issue of quality by proposing a measure of the percentage of childcare and education settings (by type) that provide emotionally supportive and cognitively stimulating care. She noted that data from the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) and the preschool section of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System could be used for this indicator, and that other measures in development might also be used (Pianta, Hamre, and Laparo, 2008). She also questioned Barnett’s concern that observations would be prohibitively expensive, noting that there are reliable and valid measures that could be administered with a nationally representative sample. She highlighted the importance of finding a way to consistently measure quality, commenting that “for us to have [no] idea about the quality of care for the first five years of life in the U.S. is appalling.” 11Researchers and others often use the phrase “early childhood care and education” to capture the idea that anyone working with young children will be providing care and that purposeful education of young children (beyond what any caring adult might offer) is an additional element that both child care centers and preschool programs offer.
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Key National Education Indicators INDIVIDUAL OUTCOMES Index of Children’s Learning and Development The first 5 years of life are a time of rapid learning and development that is critical for many later outcomes, Barnett noted. Monitoring of this development is important because large ability gaps12 become apparent well before children enter kindergarten (Halle et al., 2009; Lee and Burkham, 2002). Differences in cognitive abilities between black and white children are evident before age 3 (Burchinal et al., 2011; Dickenson, 2011). Early differences in abilities increase through age 5 and persist at the same or larger levels thereafter. Cognitive abilities, including language, attention, and math skills are strongly predictive of achievement at the end of primary school and even into high school (Dickinson, 2011; Duncan et al, 2007; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008; Verhoeven, van, Leeuwe and Vermeer, 2011). Ideally, Barnett suggested, children’s development would be measured at age 3 and at kindergarten entry. He noted, however, that there are few comparable instruments that could be used to measure development at these stages nationally, though data from the ECLS-B could provide a start. “It’s very hard to do good assessments of kids before they are 3 and pretty darn hard at 3,” he observed. It’s also much less expensive to collect data on 5-year-olds, he added, “but in some ways it’s a little late.” Nevertheless, he suggested that a NAEP-type assessment for children entering kindergarten could possibly be developed for this purpose. Burchinal agreed that a NAEP structure is a possible tool for assessing children’s readiness for school (she also suggested it could be useful for program evaluation). She noted that Head Start and public pre-kindergarten programs already have standards for developmental milestones, and often collect data to determine whether the standards are being met, so there may be other ways to accomplish the goal of establishing an indicator of children’s acquisition of the language, academic, attention, and social skills they will need in school. There is strong evidence, she explained, that these skills predict their academic and social trajectories well (see, e.g., Alexander and Entwistle, 1988). The Head Start and state preschool data discussed could also be used for this indicator. The advantage to measuring school readiness using NAEP, in her view, is that such a program could monitor in a uniform way the children and programs in all early childhood systems or contexts. It might be possible to combine observational measures with other measures to improve the estimation of quality, as has been advocated in a K-12 context.13 She was more optimistic than Barnett about possibilities for assessing young children, noting that language skills, for example, are relatively easy to measure and are quite predictive of later development. Vandell also advocated the use of a NAEP-like assessment of children’s reading and mathematics skills and their approach to learning at the beginning of kindergarten. For her, the key features would be collecting the data through a direct assessment and using a nationally representative sample. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 12Barnett commented that he prefers to use the term “gradients” because there is such a clear, continuous and linear relationship between income and test scores, as well as social and emotional development. 13For more information, see http://www.metproject.org/.
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Key National Education Indicators (ECLS-K), which already collects data from a nationally representative sample of young children, could possibly be used for this purpose, she added. CONTEXT Measures of the Home Environment and Early Experiences Early family experiences have large effects on children’s development and are highly predictive of long-term development, and this issue was thoroughly addressed by the presenters. Most agreed that measures of these factors are important, but they acknowledged that obtaining accurate and reliable information can be challenging, given privacy concerns raised when data are collected about families and community environments. Developmental differences emerge early, and many are associated with complex family circumstances that vary within and across ethnic groups, Barnett explained. Indeed, much of the variation in preschool abilities is explained by differences in early parenting and to a lesser, but still important, extent by differences in experiences with other caregivers and preschool education. For example, variations in children’s very early experiences with language—how many words are spoken to them, how often they are spoken to, the extent to which they are encouraged to use their own developing language abilities and emergent pre-literacy skills—predict not just their early vocabulary, but also their vocabulary in elementary school (Dickinson, 2011). A similar relationship is found between early home mathematics experiences and early knowledge of mathematics (Levine et al., 2011). Some surveys, such as the National Household Education Surveys Program, already collect information about aspects of the home environment, Barnett explained, but constructing an index of the home environment and parental behavior that would be informative for policy makers and in communicating with the public, and yet not so simple as to be misleading, will take some thinking, in his view. For example, if one measure is number of books in the home, simply buying books for families could be the logical policy response, yet it would be unlikely to have much effect. Sue Sheridan agreed, and she focused most of her suggested indicators on aspects of the home environment. Her first suggestion was the number of parents who demonstrate (or number of children who experience) responsive, sensitive interactions, such as displays of affection, physical proximity, and positive reinforcement. She explained that the evidence base for the importance of parenting is strong, noting several specific findings: • Sensitive, responsive parent-child interactions and relationships are associated with stronger cognitive abilities, school achievement, literacy skills, and social competence (Auerbach, 1989; Brice-Heath, 1986; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002; Snow, 1988, 1991; Tomasello and Farrar, 1986). • Parent-child interactions that include displays of affection, physical proximity, positive reinforcement, and sensitivity are associated with children’s positive cognitive growth over time (Bradley et al., 2001; Burchinal et al., 1997; Landry et al., 2001; Pungello et al., 2009; Rao et al., 2010).
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Key National Education Indicators • Preschool children who experience secure attachments with a caregiver as infants have been shown to engage in more spontaneous reading activities and perform better on literacy measures, in comparison to those who were insecurely attached (Bus and van IJzendoorn, 1988). Those with secure attachments demonstrate greater levels of curiosity and self-directedness, are sensitive to others’ needs, and are eager to learn (Bost et al., 1998). They also experience higher levels of behavioral and emotional control, exhibit greater adaptability and autonomy, and experience fewer difficulties approaching learning tasks (Sroufe, 1983). Sheridan also suggested measuring the percentage of families that provide (or the percentage of children who receive) enriching and stimulating home environments. Such environments, she explained, are characterized by rich and responsive verbal exchanges (reciprocal turn-taking and open questions); shared interactive experiences with books and other printed materials; exposure to vocabulary enrichment; positive social interactions; guided exploration and constructive play; and opportunities for learning and problem solving. Parental engagement behaviors and a stimulating home environment in children’s first 5 years are highly related to cognitive and social outcomes, she explained, and play an exceptionally important role in shaping the capacity of the developing brain. Research has demonstrated, she added, that a cognitively, emotionally, and physically stimulating environment is related to high language and cognitive skills, school readiness, and academic success at least through the primary grades (e.g., Arnold et al., 1994; Bradley, Burchinal, and Casey, 2001; Chazan-Cohen et al., 2009; Espinosa, 2002; Foster et al., 2005; Hill, 2001; Hood, Conlon, and Andrews, 2008; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002; Pan et al., 2005; Raikes et al., 2006; Tamis-LeMonda and Bornstein, 2002; Weigel, Martin, and Bennett, 2006a, 2006b). The frequency and quality of words a child hears during his or her first 3 years of life are critically important in shaping language development, she added, and interventions to support parenting skills and learning have been shown to improve children’s outcomes in a number of areas (Hart and Risley, 1995; Knoche et al., in press; Landry et al., 2001; Sheridan et al., 2010, 2011). Sheridan also addressed risk factors in the home, suggesting as an indicator the percentage of families with multiple risk factors, such as poverty, single adult household, non-English-speaking household, parents with less than a high school education, a teen parent, and parental mental illness. She explained that young children’s brains are extremely vulnerable to the effects of adversity, and that deprivation, neglect and the other factors she had listed are harmful in themselves; when multiple risk factors are present, the probability that children’s development will be compromised increases (Bornstein and Bradley, 2003; Brooks-Gunn and Markman, 2005; Duncan and Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Essex et al., 2001; Grossman et al., 2003; Hart and Risley, 1995; National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics, 2007; Raviv, Kessenich, and Morrison, 2004; Roberts et al., 1999; Sameroff et al., 1987, Wood, 2003). In response to several questions from participants who objected to the inclusion of language on this list, she emphasized that she included non-English-speaking households not because speaking another language is in any way a disadvantage, but because families in which the adults do not speak English may have greater difficulty establishing
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Key National Education Indicators connections to the public school system and other community resources and supports. This is of particular importance in areas where the community resources and supports are offered only in English, and fluency in English is needed to fully benefit from them. She stressed that this can be a disadvantage for children in families that also have risk factors such as poverty, and that her concern was with the ways in which the lack of Englishspeaking skills can magnify the effects of other risk factors. A related important indicator, for Sheridan, is the number of children or families receiving health, mental health, and social services, because such connections buffer children against negative outcomes (Korbin and Coulton, 1997; Sampson, 1992). Partnerships with providers of these services can produce changes in the family environment, she noted, and provide potential for changing developmental trajectories, and “moving the needle, particularly for children who show early signs of developmental risk.” Index of Children’s Prenatal Exposure to Hazards Prenatal exposure to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, environmental toxins, violence, and parental stress also adversely affect child development, and the developmental consequences can be very severe and are long term. Barnett included tracking exposure to such hazards in his list, noting that some data are already collected: the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) includes hazard exposure, and there may also be health surveys that would be useful. However, Barnett believes a new instrument would be needed to adequately capture significant exposure, though he believes collecting the data every 5 years would be sufficient because the circumstances are not likely to change quickly. Family Demographics For Vandell, the basic context in which early care and education are provided is defined by the demographic characteristics of families. She suggested collecting basic data on the families of young children in order to identify differences in the quality of and access to care for children in different subgroups, defined by income level, home language, and ethnic and racial background. Current data suggest that access and quality vary by group, she noted, but these family demographic factors should be collected for all developmental periods and should be disaggregated by state and by age. The Current Population Survey could be used for this purpose, she added. ISSUES FOR THE PRESCHOOL STAGE Four issues were the focus of most of the discussion about preschool indicators. Each of these challenges, noted Eugene García, is exacerbated by the fact that “we really don’t have a system” for addressing the needs of young children. These years are every bit as important as later stages of development, and indeed set the stage for what happens in school and beyond, he added.
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Key National Education Indicators Assessing Young Children Several of the presenters suggested that assessing children, possibly at ages 3 and 5, to monitor their development during the preschool years and their readiness for kindergarten (most advocated assessing only a representative sample), and participants had many thoughts about this proposal. One approach would be to expand NAEP for this purpose, and participants noted that this could be a reasonably affordable model for sampling the national population. Adding a preschool component to NAEP would make it possible, but several practical concerns were raised. NAEP’s samples are drawn from public school enrollments, but many preschoolers are enrolled in programs that are not connected to the public school system; thus, it would be necessary to identify an additional sample of children not enrolled in public pre-K programs in order to fully represent the population. NAEP is given in the spring, but if the goal is to capture kindergarten readiness, it would be necessary to assess children in the early fall. An advantage to NAEP is that it includes a background questionnaire that collects data on students, families, and schools, one participant pointed out, but privacy concerns have severely constrained what can be included on these questionnaires, to the point, in his view, that they are almost useless. Presenters had emphasized the importance of contextual information about children and families, so this could be a serious drawback to using NAEP, in this participant’s opinion. Another participant noted that sampling is a useful way to track basic trends but that if states or districts would like to have formative data that would allow them to plan instruction and to target students’ needs, it would be necessary to use a different measurement approach. Other assessment instruments might also be tapped for preschool indicators, and participants mentioned a web-based early childhood assessment used in Australia, the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS), as well as the fact that OECD, UNESCO, and the World Bank are all interested in the development of improved indicator systems for early childhood. Using the ECLS program is another option, several people noted. Addressing Language and Immigration Each state has its own definition of what an English-language learner is, noted García, “so if we are going to measure it we probably ought to have some consensus about what it means.” Language development is a central aspect of the first 5 years of life, and language mediates children’s relationships with their teachers and caregivers. If a measure of language proficiency is concluded among the indicators, García suggested, it could have unintended consequences if it does not capture the benefits of development in the family language as well as of developing proficiency in English. High rates of immigration to the United States mean that populations are changing, sometimes very rapidly, and cultural norms are evolving as well. Development and learning are culturally mediated, García added, and it is important to be careful about standardizing expectations for children and the adults who work with them unnecessarily. For example, expectations related to how adults communicate with children, for example,
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Key National Education Indicators may differ significantly across groups, but a range of approaches may work equally well in helping children develop. Capturing Quality “We need more uniformity than we currently have in assessments of quality,” noted Barnett. There are possibilities, but he believes the cost of conducting nationally representative observational studies is currently prohibitive. Other participants were more optimistic about the possibilities, but agreed that more development is needed to make measures of this critical element a reality for a national indicator system. Part of the difficulty is that while there is a fairly strong consensus about what children need—which includes secure attachments with adults; supportive and nurturing relationships with caregivers; a stimulating, language-rich environment; and systems to support those experiencing adversity—these elements are much more difficult to measure than, say, mathematical or language learning. At the same time, the children who are not getting all of those elements in a preschool program are all too often those whose families have the greatest risk factors. One participant noted that the greatest risk is in that disconnect between families and available resources. The question of which indicators would be most likely to lead to productive change is not a simple one. Research seems to support the idea that the presence of a curriculum is a particularly important indicator of the quality of a program, for example, but the disparate nature of preschool and child care systems and their governance by states means that more work is needed to determine the best approach to measuring quality, participants suggested. Capturing Environment and Context The disconnect between families at risk and the supports communities have available points to a broader issue that may or not belong among the education indicators, participants suggested. The health of communities, specifically the health of infants and mothers, economic well-being, and the extent of risks such as substance use, crime and violence, and the like, have a profound influence on young children but are also important for other reasons. It may be that the health of communities along such dimensions would best be captured elsewhere in the indicator system, it was noted. So long as the elements that are critical to the development of young children are captured somewhere, they need not be included among the education indicators. The discussion closed with a reminder that the years from birth to age 5 are at least as important as 5 to 17—and that even a simple indicator of what society is spending on the first 5 years, compared with spending on other phases of life, would be a useful way of pushing policy makers and other to reflect on its goals for supporting the nation’s youngest children.