Members of the Alaska State Policy Research Alliance (ASPRA) know that the journey toward becoming a successful, contributing community member starts early and lasts a long time. That’s why the alliance is working at both ends of the educational continuum.
While much of ASPRA’s emphasis to date has centered on defining what it means to be ready for and successful in college, career, and cultural life, the alliance is now ramping up work on early childhood. Educating Alaska’s youngest citizens has been gaining traction as a policy priority in the state, including recent discussions at the state legislature about prekindergarten programs, a state early childhood education plan, and reading programs for K–3 students.
The alliance has formed an early childhood working group with representatives from Alaska Native organizations, Best Beginnings, the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research, thread–a statewide early care and education network, Alaska Early Childhood Coordinating Council, the Department of Education & Early Development, the Department of Health and Social Services, early childhood program providers, K–12, and the University of Alaska Anchorage.
The group will meet in Anchorage in September to create an initial research agenda for the state. The topic areas and research questions identified at the meeting will inform upcoming work by ASPRA members and REL Northwest to support the use of data to improve early childhood programs and policy.
REL Northwest’s early childhood education lead Fiona Helsel is especially excited about the additional work ASPRA is undertaking. “For the past two years, REL Northwest has been examining national and state trends in early childhood and determining how those trends align with regional needs,“she says. “The new work by the early childhood working group not only aligns directly with the mission of the REL, but also broadens ASPRA’s work and sets the stage for future activities for the REL.”
In addition, REL Northwest staff members have created a data inventory to provide information about what early childhood data are currently collected in Alaska, where gaps exist, and how to link data across programs and to the state longitudinal data system.
REL Northwest staff member Aisling Nagel notes that the data inventory will help those involved in early childhood work know what data exist outside their own agencies. “The working group members asked us to create this resource so that they can identify where they could start making better use of the data they already have and where they may need to collect other data to answer key policy questions,” she says. “Given how much momentum there has been about early childhood lately, there is an even greater need for evidence to inform state policy discussions and this inventory will help stakeholders to identify data that they can bring to these conversations.”