The only organization dedicated solely to helping state boards advance equity and excellence in public education.

Early Childhood Education State Network and Workgroup

High-quality early learning requires a high-quality workforce with specialized knowledge and skills. State boards of education play a distinct role in developing a well-qualified early learning workforce as they set requirements for core early learning standards, advance workforce credentialing and preparation, and improve professional development opportunities. NASBE has two professional learning opportunities for state boards of education looking to deepen their early learning expertise.

About the ECE State Network

State education agencies (SEAs) and state boards of education can use their policy levers to investigate and influence early education workforce quality in four areas: qualifications and licensure, preparation programs, professional development, and compensation. In addition, they can leverage provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and federal COVID recovery funds to advance changes in their states. NASBE established the ECE State Network in 2017 with support from the Foundation for Child Development and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

State boards of education from New York, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Mississippi, Washington, Delaware, Illinois, and Guam were tasked with developing, revising, and adopting policies to support the ECE system and its workforce. They made tremendous progress and showcased state boards’ key role in leading initiatives to advance ECE.

The Illinois State Board of Education commissioned a research project on ECE licensure and teacher shortage issues after joining NASBE’s ECE network. The project laid the groundwork for solving a teacher shortage problem that preexisted COVID-19. Findings were presented to the state board, and the board is reexamining its licensure types to determine whether it might create a permanent alternative pathway for ECE teachers to become state certified. The project supported the convening of representatives from across Illinois government, including the state board, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Illinois Community College Board.

Michigan’s state board approved a birth-kindergarten teacher license. Over its four years of working with NASBE, Michigan changed its ECE teacher licensure structure, replacing its K-6 license with two narrow-band licenses that specify the knowledge and skills the workforce needs for early childhood and elementary teaching. The Michigan state board, working closely with the Michigan Department of Education, led the work. 

New York developed “Resource Guides for School Success in Early Learning: The Third Grade Early Learning Standards.” This document was reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents. The guides provide reference tool by teachers, specialists, and administrators responsible for designing programs for third-grade students, and strengthen PreK-3 grade alignment. New York also provided professional learning events to support teachers’ career development. The learning sessions are posted on the New York State Education Department’s Office of Early Learning’s website.

The Guam Board of Education developed guidance for early childhood educators on social and emotional learning (SEL) and supportive policy to help young children and their families adjust to online, hard-copy curriculum and face-to-face models of instruction during the pandemic. The project included training of Guam board members and the island’s Early Childhood Education Planning Committee to deepen their understanding of SEL and to craft policy to address the needs of young children. The board worked with the superintendent of education and appointed an ECE task force to draft an SEL policy, which was approved by the board in 2020.


Join the ECE Network in 2022

NASBE is recruiting two additional states in 2022 to join the NASBE Early Childhood Education (ECE) State Network as part of its efforts to develop, revise, or adopt policies and share practices with other states. Applicant state boards must have a strong interest in work on ECE workforce issues to support educators and leaders serving children birth through age 8. The selected states will receive a stipend of $5,000 each year for two years (2022 and 2023), adhering to certain criteria.

Proposed areas for policy work could address, for example, the health and safety of young children and teachers, early literacy, professional development for teachers or leaders about trauma-informed or culturally responsive instruction, birth to third-grade system alignment, a policy audit, or teacher recruitment and retention. Proposed initiatives should have at least one policy component to support ECE educators.

Learn more about the application process below. Proposals are due to NASBE Director of Early Learning Winona Hao no later Friday, May 20, 2022.

ECE Network Application


About the ECE Workgroup

The ECE Workgroup allows state board members to deepen their knowledge of early education issues and learn how they can best-support students’ early success. In 2022, NASBE has formed the Early Literacy Work Group so that state board members and staff can learn from national experts about early-literacy trends and research and from other states that have employed effective policies and practices to increase young children’s reading success.

Research demonstrates that students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to not finish high school. Third grade marks an important turning point, when the focus shifts from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. During this transition, students spend less time learning new reading skills and are instead learning new content and concepts that the reading conveys. However, the most recent NAEP score in 2019 revealed that the percentage of fourth-grade public school students performing at or above the NAEP Proficient level in reading was 34 percent nationally, which was below the levels in the 2017 report. The declining reading achievement has caused state policymakers and practitioners to strengthen their engagement on the early literacy issue. In recognition of this importance, NASBE has formed an Early Literacy Workgroup to promote learning and action among state boards. The work group will cover a range of content and policy knowledge about early literacy for children across early childhood and elementary grades, including, but not limited to the following:

  • science of reading
  • high-quality reading instruction and programs
  • early-literacy policymaking (review, audit, develop, revise, adopt, approve)
  • effective professional development for educators
  • teacher qualifications and requirements
  • kindergarten readiness
  • reading intervention
  • reading benchmarks
  • birth to third grade system alignment
  • dual language learner support

The Early Literacy Work Group is a one-year commitment, starting in May 2022. It is free to NASBE members with a limited travel subsidy for in-person meetings. Additional details about work group can be found here. Applications will be accepted on a first-come-first-served, rolling basis. Please direct questions to NASBE Director of Early Learning Winona Hao.

Early Literacy Work Group Application

State Innovations

Michigan Adds Certificate for Birth to Kindergarten Teachers

A detail of how the Michigan State Board of Education, working closely with the state education agency, is expanding opportunities to improve early educators’ preparation.

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Early Childhood Education Summit

Join us as national experts discuss the challenges facing ECE and the strategies and resources states can tap to meet them. Participants will learn from other state board colleagues about barriers to effective ECE policymaking and potential solutions.

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Education Leaders Reports

Start Strong: Supporting Early Childhood Education through Policy

State boards of education can leverage their existing authority to ensure that all early learners have access to a quality education. This report is a product of a workgroup NASBE convened on early childhood education.

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Press Release

NASBE's Early Childhood Education Workgroup Kicks Off in May

NASBE welcomed 12 state board of education members from 11 states to Alexandria, Virginia, for the inaugural meeting of its Early Childhood Education (ECE) Workgroup.

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Press Release

NASBE Builds an Alliance of Network States to Strengthen Early Childhood Education Workforce

NASBE reignites a state network tasked with developing, revising, and adopting early childhood education policies that other state boards can replicate.

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State Innovations

Michigan Narrows Licensure Bands to Improve Early Learning

Michigan jettisoned its broad elementary teaching licenses in favor of preK-3 and 3-6 licenses that will better equip new teachers with developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills.

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How State Boards of Education Can Cultivate a Skilled, Stable Workforce in Early Education

This webinar examines early childhood workforce policies and the economic status of the workforce across the country.

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Education Leaders Reports

The Role of State Boards in Improving Early Childhood Education

State boards have authority that positions them to be key players in improving early education.

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Policy Update

Advancing the Early Learning Workforce through State Policies

This NASBE policy update examines the US preschool workforce skills gap and outlines ways state boards can strengthen policies to advance the early education workforce and ensure a high-quality education for preschool learners.

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Also from NASBE

Right from the Start

The National Early Childhood Education Task Force provided this policy agenda in 1988 to promote the development of all young children.

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