Young children’s learning happens in a variety of settings. For the purposes of this webpage, early care and education refers to formal settings, including:

  • Regulated child care (birth through age five and before- and after-school care)
  • Preschool and Head Start (age three through age five)
  • Kindergarten through third grade (age five through age eight)

High-quality child care, Head Start and preschool programs (birth through age five) help prepare children for school and life success. Children in high quality programs tend to have:

  • More advanced language and pre-math skills
  • More advanced social skills
  • Warmer relationships with their teachers1
  • Fewer behavioral challenges2
  • Easier adjustment to kindergarten3

Children from low-income families and those at risk for academic challenges show the biggest gains from high quality early care and education. Those are also the child populations who, on average, start kindergarten behind their peers in literacy and language skills.4 

High-quality education in the early grades (kindergarten through third grade) helps children maintain developmental and learning gains,5 while lack of academic progress in the early elementary school years can be predictive of later academic challenges.

  • Children who are not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely not to graduate, and for children of color that rate doubles6
  • Chronic absences in elementary school predict future academic challenges7
  • Reading problems among third to fifth grade students correlate with later learning, life and economic challenges, including lower adult literacy, youth delinquency and later incarcerations, and lifelong economic challenges.8
  • Reading challenges in the early elementary school years also impact students’ ability to succeed in middle- and high-school math.9

Show 9 footnotes

  1. U.S. Department of Education. (2015).  A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America. Retrieved from
  2.  Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy. (2012). Quality: What it Is and Why it Matters in Early Childhood Education. Retrieved from
  3.  The Research Base for a Birth through Eight State Policy Framework. (2013) .Child Trends. Retrieved from
  4.  U.S. Department of Education. (2015). A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America, op cit.
  5.  Education Commission of the States. (2016). Companion Report: 50-State Comparison: K-3 Quality. Retrieved form and Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(1). Retrieved from
  6. Annie E. Casey Foundation (2013). Early Warning Confirmed. Retrieved from
  7. Education Commission of the States. (2010). Chronic Early Absence. Retrieved from 
  8.  Simonton, S. (2016, July 18). Reading Difficulty in Young Children Linked to Later Trouble with the Law. Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Retrieved from
  9. Fite, G. (2002). Reading and Math: What’s the Connection. Retrieved from

Read More About This Issue

percent of NC children under age six living in households where the sole parent or both parents were working

Child Care Services Association of North Carolina. March 2020. Young Children and their Families in North Carolina.

percent of NC children under age six who are enrolled in licensed child care centers or homes

Child Care Services Association of North Carolina. March 2020. Young Children and their Families in North Carolina.

percent of elementary school principals nationally with Pre-K classrooms in their schools who felt that they were well-trained in “instructional methods and developmentally-appropriate perspectives for early education

Education Week, New Principals: A Data Snapshot, 2015

percent of of K-3 educators are in favor of creating a unified and aligned system of early childhood education birth through 8

National Association for the Education of Young Children, K-3 Market Research, 2018.


What Can We Do About It?

What supports high quality early care and education?

  • A comprehensive, aligned, equitable birth through third grade education system that includes educator and school leader professional development opportunities
  • A focus on social-emotional learning
  • Increasing affordability of and access to high quality birth-through-age-five early care and education

Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Design Teams co-created the Pathways Action Framework, focusing in on three areas that directly impact third grade reading proficiency:

  • Social-emotional health
  • High quality birth through age eight care and education
  • Regular school attendance

Read the Pathways Action Framework here.

Together with parents and teachers, we are reimagining an early childhood education system that truly meets the needs of the families it serves. Click here to learn about the Care and Learning (CandL) coalition and its work to reimagine and rebuild early care and education for all North Carolina children while ensuring that childcare providers earn enough to be sustainable in every community.

Research-based based policies, practices and programs that providers, communities and North Carolina can take to ensure high quality early care and education.

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