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Unpacking Standards in Early Childhood Education

by Christopher P. Brown - 2007


Policy-makers at the federal and state levels have increased their efforts to implement standards-based accountability reform in early childhood education (ECE) to improve the academic readiness of children for elementary school. As these policies have taken on more prominence within ECE reform, national organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialist in State Departments of Education and the National Institute for Early Education Research have produced guidelines and suggestions for formulating standards. Early childhood researchers have investigated and questioned the purpose, goals, and policy process of early learning standards. These works examine a range of issues such as capacity and capital, curriculum and assessment, and readiness and retention.

Focus of Study:

In this article, I examine how early childhood stakeholders in the state of Wisconsin responded to the current Bush Administrationís Good Start, Grow Smart (GSGS) initiative by creating a double-voiced document that answered requirements of the GSGS initiative while at the same time attempting to pique the interest and support of the stateís loosely coupled field of ECE to a voluntary set of standards. Examining these stakeholdersí response highlights the tensions that exist in attempting to reform ECE and how simple policy solutions such as the GSGS initiative fail to address the complexity that exists within the field of ECE.

Research Design:

This research project is a qualitative instrumental case study that examines the formulation and implementation of Wisconsinís Model Early Learning Standards.


Even though the Early Learning Standards Steering Committee created a double-voiced document that responded to policy-makersí demands for early learning standards while attempting to attract and unite early childhood programs and practitioners around a collective understanding of the goals of ECE, the future of the field is uncertain. The second-class status of ECE in the realm of policy and the investment of capital that is required to alter the field cause one to question whether systemic reform could ever occur in ECE. Nevertheless, policy-makersí demands for improved student performance will not die down simply because states are implementing early learning standards. Thus, the field of ECE is at a critical point within the history of education reform, and stakeholders must continue to promote a vision of ECE that goes beyond simply protecting current practices and demand structural changes that foster the growth and development of all children.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 3, 2007, p. 635-668
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12827, Date Accessed: 9/19/2021 10:10:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Christopher P. Brown
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER BROWN is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include the intersection of education policy, curriculum, and instruction, standards-based accountability reform, and early childhood/early elementary education.
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