Using Evidence to Mitigate the Effects of the Covid-19 Crisis on Young Children and Early Care and Education Programs

In June of 2021, sixteen academics from top Universities and policy research organizations authored the report, Historic Crisis, Historic Opportunity: Using Evidence to Mitigate the Effects of the Covid-19 Crisis on Young Children and Early Care and Education Programs. This report compiled the findings of 76

high-quality studies, spanning 16 national studies, 45 studies from 31 states, and 15 local studies on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on young children’s educational experiences and learning outcomes.  In the short term, the report aims to help policymakers make evidence-informed choices about how to leverage new resources. Ultimately, it aims to support efforts to build a stronger early childhood education (ECE) system.

The report provides findings on young children’s learning experiences and outcomes, on early care and educational programs, on the care and education programs themselves, and then offers solutions.

Findings on the effects of the pandemic on young children’s learning experiences and outcomes:

  • Some of the necessary changes that were made to young children’s in-person learning environments to enhance safety were not conducive to learning and social skill development.
  • Remote/hybrid learning was challenging for children, families, and teachers and resulted in significantly less learning time and lower-quality instruction.
  • Young children’s learning and development suffered setbacks during the crisis.
  • Effects of the crisis have not been born equally. Children of color, DLLs, and children from families with low incomes appear to have been more negatively affected. Young children with special needs may not have been identified and may not have gotten the services they needed to thrive.

Findings on the effects of the pandemic on early care and education programs:

  • The public health emergency highlighted pre-existing inequalities across early childhood program types. Child care centers and family child care homes ( providers care for small groups of children in a residential building) experienced serious financial challenges. In contrast, public schools and Head Start programs experienced more stable funding and were not as affected.
  • Early stabilization efforts left substantial unmet needs, particularly in child care centers and in family child care homes. Pandemic recovery continues to be uneven, with tremendous need for new funding.
  • The pandemic increased the complexity and stress of early educators’ jobs across all program types, in ways that negatively impacted teachers’ mental health. Teachers reported high levels of stress and depressive symptoms, as well as concerns that these challenges would affect their ability to provide high-quality experiences for young children.
  • More challenging working conditions, financial concerns, and mental health struggles may have contributed to programs’ challenges recruiting and retaining teachers. Data from fall 2020 and spring 2021 suggest that teachers’ commitment to both their jobs and the field of ECE has decreased, and programs are struggling to hire qualified teachers.

Evidence-backed and equity-centered solutions:

  • Act on the best science of teaching and learning for young children. For example, eliminating wasted time on activities common in early learning and early elementary classrooms like calendar activities and inefficient transitions would also allow more time on the highly effective play-based instructional practices that accelerate young children’s learning.
  • Make the most of summer by offering summer learning opportunities that abide by best practices (program length, small class sizes, cultural relevance, etc.)
  • Offer tutoring as early as kindergarten.
  • Hire assistance teachers. New federal funding can support additional assistant teachers in the classroom, increasing the amount of time students spend in small groups and as well as the time teachers spend differentiating instruction to meet students where they are.
  • Place extra weight on socioemotional development and consider trauma-informed approaches.
  • Prohibit harsh discipline as children return to ECE settings. Children have had an unusually wide array of experiences during the pandemic, and their behavior may also vary widely during reentry into group settings.
  • Continue virtual options to connect with families.
  • Consider free, technology-based learning supports.
  • Ensure public investments are sufficient to pay all ECE workers a living wage and close the pay gap between K-12 educators with matching qualifications
  • Offer additional healthcare subsidies for ECE workers.
  • If vaccine boosters are necessary, prioritize ECE educators.
  • Expand publicly funded ECE options.
  • Consider public supports to stabilize child care providers in the short and long term.
  • Anticipate and stave off cuts to Head Start and public schools.
  • Invest in data systems and analytic capacity. Better data on ECE settings can only drive improved outcomes if there are analysts to synthesize data and put findings in context for policy and practice.
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