Aligning the Early Childhood System


Researchers, practitioners and policymakers increasingly believe that a more seamless pipeline that addresses a range of academic, behavioral, health and family issues can serve young children more effectively.

Children and their families interact with different systems and supports on a daily basis that often do not collaborate or communicate with one another. A child may be enrolled in Head Start, have a sibling attending a local public elementary school, and have a mother receiving the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and all three of those programs could have different requirements and no cross-communication among them, despite serving the same family.

Educational alignment works to align services and supports, improve communication among stakeholders, and foster collaboration, so city leaders can prevent duplication of services and increase program quality.

The National League of Cities’ (NLC) new initiative, Promoting an Alignment Framework to Build an Early Learning Nation, is part of a national effort to increase the likelihood that all children will achieve educational success by the end of third grade. This 2-year project, generously supported by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, builds upon prior work by the NLC Institute for Youth, Education and Families (IYEF) to more effectively align early childhood policies and programs for young children, birth to age 8, and is designed to lay the groundwork for a broader campaign that will engage cities across the nation in early learning efforts.

NLC’s framework for Educational Alignment for Young Children (EAYC) provides a basis for bringing multi-sector groups together to align efforts, programs, services, and policies to support young children and families and ensure all children reach their potential.  As part of the initiative, NLC recently, with the input of cities, revised NLC’s original EAYC framework to reflect a new understanding of what it takes for cities to align their early childhood system, birth to age 8 to create an equitable system.  The resulting framework, An Alignment Framework for an Equitable Early Care and Education System, identifies eight key elements necessary for cities to align their early care and education systems, birth to age 8.

In addition, NLC launched the Early Childhood Network (EC Network). The EC Network provides additional ways to connect cities and enhance the peer learning environment.  There are three components of the EC Network.  A quarterly webinar series and an online connected community bring together all of the cities that are currently part of NLC’s early childhood projects.  The third component of the EC Network is a technical assistance award to 14 cities: Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Dubuque, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Las Vegas, Nevada; Louisville, Kentucky; Madison, Wisconsin; Nashville, Tennessee; New Haven, Connecticut; Oakland, California; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Phoenix, Arizona; and Tempe, Arizona.  NLC will provide technical assistance on the key elements of the framework.  The teams will determine the specific issues each city plans to address and the strategies, including policy changes that will effectively drive local progress.

This project leverages current investments from other national funders, including the Bezos Family Foundation and the Foundation for Child Development, that support a larger NLC Early Childhood Success portfolio.

History of NLC’s IYEF Initiatives Improving Educational Alignment

NLC has a robust history of working with city leaders to improve early childhood education alignment.  Beginning in 2010, IYEF conducted a landscape review of many cities, including five case study cities, and their early childhood initiatives to identify the key elements of an aligned system for young children.  In 2012, IYEF published Educational Alignment for Young Children: Profiles of Local Innovation, generously funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  From this analysis, NLC identified Ten Elements of Educational Alignment. 

The Educational Alignment for Young Children (EAYC) initiative was launched in 2013, with the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This highly successful initiative, concluding in 2016, helped leaders in six cities establish best practices in aligning existing systems of early education, to change how they “do business” to promote early learning in their communities. More recently, new partnerships with the Bezos Family Foundation and the Foundation for Child Development enabled IYEF to establish new networks of cities committed to early learning and provide practical assistance to elected officials to improve and strengthen their capacity to put all the pieces together at the local level. 

NLC and city officials worked together to align efforts on behalf of young children from birth to age eight that go well beyond the classroom to include a broad range of supports and opportunities that help families thrive. To tackle these issues, the cities developed cross-sector teams comprised of city staff and city council members, public library leaders, early childhood educators and administrators, and representatives from the school district. NLC provided technical assistance to six cities: Austin and Fort Worth, Texas; Hartford, Conn.; Longmont, Colo.; Richmond, Va.; and Rochester, N.Y.

NLC focused on three key elements of educational alignment: Formalizing partnerships or creating governance structures to develop common definitions and goals and take joint action to implement a high quality early childhood system; Enhancing professional development to support qualified teachers and administrators; and Transforming family engagement to develop shared educational goals for children, support parents in their role as a child’s first teacher and help children and parents gain access to a full range of services, including health and mental health services. 

City Profiles 2013-2016

Over the course of 2013-2016, groups of community leaders from six cities interested in improving early childhood systems participated in an intensive technical assistance program through the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. While each city has a unique system of early childhood with its own bright spots and challenges, the teams of early childhood stakeholders all shared the same vision of a community with access to a seamless system of high-quality early childhood services from birth to age 8 for all children. Below are stories from each community revealing just one aspect of their journey on the path to achieving this vision.  

+Read more