PA Eval ImageMinnesota is grappling with a tough question: How do we best improve the early learning landscape in our state?

It’s important to note that this question presumes an acceptance of the importance of early learning opportunities. We are fortunate to be having this conversation, and it’s an enormous opportunity to make a difference for our state, economy, and future.

Early learning programs come in all shapes and sizes- family child care, center-based childcare, Head Start, and public school programs are all options for families, allowing them to choose which option fits their needs best.

An intelligent way to decide which option is best is to compare all of the programs side by side along the same measuring stick. In Minnesota, that measuring stick is called Parent Aware.

Parent Aware is the statewide quality ratings system for early learning programs. A four-year statewide rollout of Parent Aware was completed in January of 2015, bringing the same measurement of quality to all early learning programs including Head Start, center and home-based, public and private programs. It promotes research-based best practices among participating programs through training and coaching, and then rates them on a scale of one to four stars. Parents can access the ratings information to determine which early childhood program will be best for their child and family.

This is important for all families, but it’s particularly important for low-income families with children. Parent Aware is a crucial component to matching up the most at-risk children with the highest quality early learning programs, a match that can change the trajectory of a child’s life. This is crucial because children from low-income families face steep obstacles to succeeding in school and life. They often hear and learn far fewer words than their peers, are more likely to start kindergarten already behind, and are less likely to catch up. A quality early learning setting can change all of that. Parent Aware makes that match possible.

Minnesota children in public and private Parent Aware-rated programs based in centers, homes and schools are making significant gains on language and literacy skills, early math skills, persistence, social skills, and mental organization or “executive function” — all critically important to success in kindergarten and beyond.

But, crucial federal funding is ending this year, and Minnesota must invest to keep this program prospering. We must fully support Parent Aware to reach the children who need high quality early learning programs the most. It’s the backbone of our early learning landscape.