Illinois’ Early Childhood Innovation Zones: A New Model for State Policy? (2017-1)

Bradford R. White, Carol E. Colaninno, Mimi Doll, and Holly Lewandowski

Illinois’ Early Childhood Innovation Zones: A New Model for State Policy? is an evaluation of efforts made by Illinois Action for Children to spur experimentation with systemic change strategies to increase the number of Illinois’ most vulnerable children enrolled in high quality early learning programs. Funded by a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant, this Innovation Zones initiative supported capacity building efforts in 11 underserved Illinois communities. The initiative targeted improvement strategies for two primary outcome measures: 1) enrolling and serving more children (birth to kindergarten) from priority populations in early learning programs; and 2) increasing the number of early learning programs participating in the state’s quality rating and improvement system. Over the duration of the grant, zones obtained modest gains in enrollment overall and quality ratings increased across all zones and within each zone. This initiative marks a new approach to delivering statewide education policy allowing communities to develop context-sensitive strategies and promoted creative solutions to common problems in the early childhood system.

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