1. Improving outcomes for children

The index draws on what is known about how public policy supports quality early childhood programming. A strong and coherent public policy framework produces the best results for children, uses public investments effi ciently and eff ectively and accounts to Canadians for the wellbeing of our children.

The Early Childhood Education Index 2011 (ECEI 2011) provides a snapshot of provincial early childhood education services. Fift een benchmarks refl ect a common set of core standards essential for the delivery of quality programming.

Backed by good data, the index:

  • points to the strengths and weaknesses in individual jurisdictions;
  • highlights what leading jurisdictions have been able to achieve in practice and
  • directs attention toward creating comprehensive early childhood education systems rather than allowing developments to be determined by short-term pressures.

The index is organized into five categories.

  • Governance: Is the oversight of early education split between multiple departments, or does it have coherent direction backed by policies with goals, timelines and sound service delivery?
  • Funding: Is it adequate to support program quality and provide reasonable access?
  • Access: Are there enough programs to meet demand? Are barriers to participation addressed?
  • Learning environment: Is quality supported by curricula, program standards and trained and adequate staffing?
  • Accountability: Is there constant quality improvement supported by data collection and the monitoring and reporting of child outcomes? Is research supported and the findings incorporated into practice?

Each category includes benchmarks with assigned values. Each category is rated out of three points, for a total of 15 points. The benchmarks reflect wellestablished elements of the essentials behind effective early childhood education. Each benchmark is based on one or more of the following three criteria:

  • Proxy power: Does the benchmark reflect a key component of a quality system of early childhood education that is associated with better outcomes for children?
  • Data power: Are data available on a timely basis? Are they reliable and standardized?
  • Communication power: Does the benchmark communicate to a broad range of audiences? Is it understood by the public, policy makers and media?

The data and rationale for the benchmarks are summarized in chapter 5. They are gathered from provincial and territorial government officials, and publicly available research studies and reports. The most recent available data are used and estimates are explained. The information is supplemented by detailed profiles of each province and territory that are posted at http://www.earlyyearsstudy.ca. Because there is insufficient data to populate all the benchmarks, the three territories are not included in this round of the index. We hope to address this in subsequent iterations.

Despite the acknowledged importance of early education, there are no common pan-Canadian indicators of progress. As the most recent report of the Canadian Council on Learning notes: “We lack appropriate national measures to provide better understanding of quality, access, financing and policy of [early childhood education] programs … In addition, the several monitoring regimes that provinces have put in place are not comparable with each other.”1

ECEI 2011 fills this void. It can be incorporated into other monitoring efforts, including the Early Development Instrument (EDI),2 the Forum on Early Child Development Monitoring,3 the Canadian Index of Well-being4 and the newly released New Deal for Families.5 ECEI 2011 provides a baseline; benchmarks may be modified through ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and officials. The intention is to reissue the index every two years.

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