Current Work

Since 2002, the National Institute for Early Education Research has provided independent, research-based analysis and technical assistance to inform policy supporting high-quality early education for all young children. NIEER is committed to providing nonpartisan research that enhances the early childhood education field and encourages policies and practices promoting the physical, cognitive and social-emotional development children need to thrive in school and beyond.

NIEER’s State of Preschool yearbook is the only national report on state-funded preschool programs with detailed information on enrollment, funding, teacher qualifications, and other policies related to quality. NIEER quality standards benchmarks have been adopted as regulations by several state early education programs. NIEER recently introduced The State(s) of Head Start, the first report to describe and analyze in detail Head Start enrollment, funding, quality, and duration, state-by-state. NIEER researchers also support young learners through the design and development of high-quality curriculum, assessments, professional development and other supports for practice.

NIEER was founded as a national policy research center with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts with leadership from Senior Co-Director W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., an economist and Board of Governors Professor at Rutgers University.  As NIEER evolved we have developed a diverse team that carries out the Institute’s research using their combined backgrounds in education, human development, developmental psychology, public policy, economics, sociology, and statistics. The NIEER team includes Senior Co-Director Ellen Frede, Ph.D., Co-Director for Research Milagros Nores, Ph.D. eight additional research faculty, senior project administrators and staff, project coordinators and additional research and policy project support staff, a communications team, and a fiscal and administrative support group led by the Associate Director, Valerie Werstler. In addition, NIEER has external Fellows who collaborate with NIEER from time to time. NIEER has been awarded $75 million in external funding from its inception to August 2017.

In what follows we provide brief descriptions of selected projects that characterize the major work of NIEER. In addition to these activities, we always have smaller projects in process or development and NIEER faculty and staff contribute to scholarship and service more broadly; for example, by serving on editorial and advisory boards, and reviewing for journals and funding competitions nationally and internationally.


NJ Department of Education APPLES RDD & Pre-Post Study

The Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study (APPLES) evaluates the long-term educational impact of pre-K on children’s learning and school success. NIEER partnered with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to obtain data from the statewide assessment data base to continue the longitudinal analysis of the APPLES I and APPLES II studies through high school and middle school, respectively. Follow-up through 10th grade (for APPLES I) was published in 2021 in Early Childhood Research Quarterly as Effects of New Jersey’s Abbott preschool program on children’s achievement, grade retention, and special education through tenth grade. Read more here.

Contacts: Steve Barnett and Kwanghee Jung

New Jersey Preschool Quality Evaluation

For more than 17 years NIEER has with rare exceptions annually collected and analyzed classroom quality observation data for state-funded preschool classrooms. The results are used by the NJDOE to inform policy and practice decisions. Read more here.

Contact: Ellen Frede

Ready, Set, Go: Expanding Capacity for Preschool Programs in New Jersey

In collaboration with NJDOE and Advocates for Children in New Jersey, NIEER faculty and staff are working with eligible school districts, other preschool providers, and key stakeholders to improve their readiness to apply for and effectively implement high-quality pre-k in New Jersey. The project’s aims are 1) to develop methods that are scalable and sustainable and 2) to increase capacity and knowledge at all levels of leadership from local to state and across auspice including private pre-k providers, school districts, Head Start, faculty, county, and state. For example, NIEER has established regional ECE Critical Friends groups where newly funded districts meet with experienced districts to work on problems of practice to augment direct technical assistance from NJDOE. Read more here.

Contacts: Beth Gardiner and Ellen Frede

Understanding How Public Preschool Can Achieve and Maintain High Quality

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NIEER is conducting a multi-year study with more than 1,000 children and their parents in 15 New Jersey school districts to generate knowledge on how to bring quality early education to scale. A particular focus of this study is the impact of program quality on young children’s activity and stress levels as key determinants of health. NIEER’s research focuses on school districts serving populations with high levels of economic and social disadvantage. NIEER will compare and contrast districts with programs of varying quality, including some formerly known as “Abbott districts” that have sustained very high-quality programs serving both 3- and 4-year-olds for many years, as well as similar districts newly funded to provide high quality pre-k programs to 4-year-olds. The study investigates how preschool policies and practices at school district, school, and classroom levels influence quality and children’s learning, development, and health. Specific topics include leadership and supervision, curriculum, teacher evaluation and professional development, and engagement of families and communities. Although conducted in New Jersey, this study is expected to have national implications. Read more here.

Contacts: Steve Barnett, Milagros Nores, and Allison Friedman-Krauss


Alliance for Early Success

NIEER provides technical assistance to state advocates on improving the quality of early care and education programs and understanding the costs associated with high-quality programs. NIEER is producing a series of Guides to PreK Expansion and other resources to support state and national advocates in their efforts to ensure all children have access to high-quality early care and education. NIEER also produced a set of tools to support advocates and state systems leaders in examining the capacity of the lead agency and early learning staff to effectively implement preschool policy. Leaders can use this suite of tools to create a reflective process for systematically assessing key aspects of the agency and staff capacity that are critical to equitable and sustainable high-quality preschool.

Contact: Lori Connors-Tadros and GG Weisenfeld

Infant and Toddler Policy Research Center at NIEER (ITC@NIEER)

ITC@NIEER was developed to produce and promote policy analysis, research, and research-based technical assistance concerning infant and toddler education and care. ITC@NIEER partners with key stakeholders in research, policy, and practice to advance high-quality infant-toddler education and care to support early development emphasizing equity for the most disadvantaged children and families. ITC@NIEER has focused on infant-toddler education and care policy in New Jersey. As it grows ITC@NIEER will seek opportunities to expand beyond New Jersey including nationally and internationally. Read more here.

Contacts: Allison Friedman-Krauss, Ellen Frede, and Steve Barnett

Pandemic’s Effects on Home Learning Activities and Preschool Program Participation of Young Children: A National Survey

To investigate the effects of the pandemic on early learning and development opportunities, NIEER surveyed nationally representative samples of about 1000 families of young children between the ages of 3 and 5 and not yet in kindergarten. The surveys were conducted in June 2020, December 2020, and June 2021. Topics included: home learning activities, preschool program participation, and, in the second and third surveys, children’s mental health and social emotional development as reported by parents. Several reports have been published including Seven Impacts of the Pandemic on Young Children and their Parents. Read more here.

Contact: Steve Barnett and Kwanghee Jung

Pre-K in Cities: An Annual Report on Pre-K in the Nation’s Largest Cities

NIEER has compiled data on policies for state- and locally-funded pre-K programs operating in the 40 largest U.S. cities. In addition to collecting the enrollment of 4-year-olds within these cities, pre-K program policies are analyzed using NIEER’s Yearbook benchmarks, 4-year-old census data, and other research-based criteria identified in collaboration with CityHealth and NIEER. Pre-K is one of nine policy areas addressed by CityHealth, an initiative of the Kaiser-Permanente and the de Beaumont Foundations. Read more here.

Contact: GG Weisenfeld

PNC-NIEER: Strategic Partnership to Support Early Learning in States

With support from the PNC Bank Foundation, NIEER informs policy analysis and policy development with a focus on access, equity, and quality relating to state-funded preschool programs across the country.  Current projects include work with individual states to evaluate the true cost of expanding high-quality preschool using the Cost of Preschool Quality and Revenue tool. NIEER also provides research support to the PNC Bank Foundation for its long-standing Grow Up Great initiative, which funds the implementation of programs to support literacy, mathematics, science, and other areas of interest in local preschools.

Contact: Steve Barnett and Karin Garver

Preschool Development Grants Birth Though Five Technical Assistance Center

NIEER is one of the organizational partners of the National Technical Assistance Center for Preschool Development Grants Birth Through Five (PDG B-5 TA) funded by the Administration for Children and Families. NIEER serves on the center’s leadership team and provides support and technical assistance to states in building, enhancing, and expanding birth through 5 mixed delivery systems and high-quality B-5 programs and services.

Contact: Lori Connors-Tadros

Quality of Early Care and Education in Indiana

NIEER, in collaboration with Early Learning Indiana (ELI), is conducting a study of the quality of early care and education programs in various auspices and will assess children ages infant through 5 with independent measures of cognitive, physical, and social emotional development. Participating programs will receive supports to implement a research-based curriculum and professional development on data literacy. The project is entitled “Using Data to Strengthen the Quality of the Early Learning System in Indiana.”  The study will provide ELI and Indiana policy makers research-based information on the quality of early childhood programs, and the learning and development status of young children birth to five in the state. Read more here.

Contacts: Lori Connors-Tadros and Milagros Nores

The State of Preschool Survey and Yearbook

NIEER produces the only national annual survey tracking funding, access, and policies of state preschool programs, and has done so since 2002. This unique survey is currently funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (It was previously funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Center for Education Statistics of the US Department of Education.) Data from this survey and report serve as an essential resource for policymakers, advocates, and researchers. NIEER 2020 State of Preschool Yearbook featured a special report about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on state-funded preschool. Prior special reports have focused on workforce issues like compensation parity, supports for Dual Language Learners, and state administrative capacity for preschool.

Contacts: Steve Barnett and Allison Friedman-Krauss

State(s) of Head Start and Special Education Yearbooks

NIEER will produce two new state-by-state reports focused on equity of access to two ECE programs: Head Start and Special Education, both with a birth to age five approach. The Head Start report will build off of the State(s) of Head Start report released in 2016. It will include information on Head Start, Early Head Start, American Indian/Alaskan Native Head Start, and Migrant Seasonal Head Start, and will focus on access, quality, and resources. The special education report will include information on both Part B (3 to 5) and Part C and will focus on who received special education services, disability type, and location of services. Read more here.

Contacts: Allison Friedman-Krauss and Steve Barnett


AeioTu Randomized Longitudinal Study

NIEER conducted a randomized trial to assess both short- and long-term impacts of a large-scale effort to improve the quality of early care and education for disadvantaged young children in Colombia. The study was funded by the Jacobs Foundation and the UBS Optimum Foundation. It assesses the impacts on cognitive, linguistic, nutritional, and social-emotional development of a comprehensive nutritional and educational intervention provided through full-day child care for children birth to age 5.

Contact: Milagros Nores

International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy

This journal is a joint publication by Korea Institute of Child Care and Education (KICCE) and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) since May 2013. The journal disseminates research and analysis regarding major issues of child care and education policy relating to young children and their families to a broad international readership, including policymakers, researchers, and practitioners. As a peer reviewed journal, it invites submission of articles concerning policy reforms, empirical research on early childhood education and care (ECEC), policy analyses and comparisons, and more.  The International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy is an open-access journal through Springer Open with publication costs covered by KICCE so authors do not need to pay an article-processing charge. Articles are indexed in SCOPUS, Emerging Sources Citation Index, Google Scholar, EBSCO, ProQuest, and SCIRUS. Read more here.

Contact: Steve Barnett and Zijia Li

Lego Paths2Play

The study seeks to understand the patterns in the teachers’ change process when they understand and implement play-based learning, as well as the contextual factors that can hinder or facilitate this process. More specifically, it delves into the change in relation to the teacher’s intentionality and the use of the play as a learning activity and of the increasingly sophisticated play as a result of learning. The proposal will contribute to the understanding of the process through which teachers become stronger facilitators of children’s learning through play. The study includes partners in Colombia and Denmark.


Documenting and Evaluating the Adaptation of the AVANCE Parent-Child Education Program for Diverse Cultures

Evaluation of model implementation and cultural adaptations as well as impacts on children and parents through a randomized trial. Funding was provided by AVANCE (Kellogg) and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Contact: Milagros Nores


Funded by the William Penn Foundation, this multi-year, multi-site study employs a combination of methods and designs to assess the components and quality of Philadelphia’s pre-kindergarten program the program’s impacts on children’s learning and development.

Contacts: Milagros Nores and Steve Barnett

West Virginia

A longitudinal evaluation of the impacts of universal pre-K in West Virginia in partnership with Marshall University. Student outcomes are examined in vocabulary, literacy, and math. Classroom quality is also examined and reported for continuous improvement.

Contacts: Milagros Nores and Kwanghee Jung

An evaluation of The Creative Curriculum® from Teaching Strategies’ Ecosystem

NIEER is launching a two-year project to study implementation of The Creative Curriculum® by Teaching Strategies to further program effectiveness. Early childhood education programs’ impact on children’s cognitive and socioemotional development depends on program quality, and mechanisms to enhance and sustain program quality over time and at scale can contribute to more positive outcomes. A key component of most conceptions of a high-quality early education is the use of a strong, developmentally appropriate curriculum. This project evaluates The Creative Curriculum® digital plus print model in its high fidelity form—connected seamlessly to assessment and family engagement workflows via a digital platform and supported through professional development—compared to The Creative Curriculum® print model as it is used more generally, and to other commonly used curricula. The primary objective of the study is to assess the extent to which the variations in levels of support to the curriculum are associated with differences in observed practices, children’s experiences, and children’s learning and development. This study includes an embedded cluster-randomized controlled trial to induce exogenous variation in implementation fidelity within districts, takes place during the 2021–22 and 2022–23 school years, and is funded by a new grant from Teaching Strategies.


Cost of Preschool Tools

NIEER has developed a set of cost calculating tools, resources for using cost outputs, and briefs explaining the research behind the tools, and case studies of how they have been used. The Cost of Preschool Quality & Revenue (CPQ&R) tool is the complete tool that allows the user to modify assumptions. The State Administrative Cost of Quality budget planning tool helps users generate data on the functions and costs of the state infrastructure to implement, monitor, and sustain quality of early childhood programs. The Cost of Preschool Quality-Mini is a simplified version of the CPQ&R.

Contact: GG Weisenfeld and Karin Garver

Early Learning Scale

The Early Learning Scale (ELS) is an authentic, observation-based performance assessment that provides educators with a practical tool for assessing the progress of students ages 3 to 6. This research-based systematic performance-based assessment tool developed by NIEER researchers (Riley-Ayers, S., Stevenson-Garcia, J., Frede, E., & Brenneman, K.) integrates with any curriculum and supports the needs of all student populations. The ELS improves teaching and learning through assessment in a focused and manageable way that is not overwhelming for teachers. The domains covered by the assessment include Math/Science, Social-Emotional/Social Studies and Language & Literacy. A Motor Development supplement is also available. NIEER is currently conducting more refined psychometric analyses of the tool including investigation of the predictive validity up to 3rd grade.

Contact: Ellen Frede and Zijia Li

Measuring and Improving Supports for Dual Language Learners

The Classroom Assessment for Supports of Emergent Bilingual Acquisition (CASEBA) and Self-Evaluation of Supports for Emergent Bilingual Acquisition (SESEBA) are conceptually linked tools to assess adequacy of instruction for dual language learners. The CASEBA is reserved for use in research studies and the SESEBA is used as a focal point for a comprehensive professional development model.

The tools’ underlying premise is that high quality and meaningful interactions in the home language along with intentional and well-planned strategies for English language learning are the best approaches to enhancing bilingual acquisition. NIEER’s current focus is to further investigate the validity of the CASEBA and refining training materials. Read more here.

Contact: Ellen Frede

Preschool Rating Instrument for Science and Mathematics (PRISM)

The PRISM is a preschool classroom observation instrument that assesses the quality of classroom materials and teaching interactions to support mathematics and science learning. The PRISM is designed to be used in research studies. The complementary Self-Assessment for Science and Math Education (SESAME) is designed to guide reflective coaching. Read more here.

Contact: Ellen Frede

Teacher Survey for Early Education Quality

Self-report survey of early childhood teachers regarding their classroom practices and quality. This survey may offer more cost-effective examination of classroom quality and is therefore a significant contribution to the field.

Contact: Milagros Nores


Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO)

CEELO was one of 22 Comprehensive Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education. In partnership with Education Development Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers, NIEER provided technical assistance and leadership training to strengthen the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to lead sustained improvements in early learning opportunities and outcomes.

Contacts: Steve Barnett and Lori Connors-Tadros

CityHealth thru Pre-K Learning Network

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the de Beaumont Foundation, NIEER is supporting a network of city pre-k leaders by providing technical assistance and other city-specific resources, including a series of webinars. Albuquerque, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, and Seattle were identified as the five “core cities,” chosen to represent diversity across governance structure, financing, geographic region and pathway to quality among other criteria. Leaders from each of the five cities are supported by NIEER through the facilitation of monthly discussion calls; participation in summits and in-person meetings; and site visits to each of the cities. To support this work, an advisory team consisting of national experts as well as leaders from pre-K programs in Boston, New York, and San Antonio, has been formed.

Contact: GG Weisenfeld and Ellen Frede

Early Childhood Workforce Scan

NIEER collaborated with researchers from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment and Bellwether Education Partners to conduct a landscape review of the trends, gaps, and potential opportunities of early childhood educator preparation programs and state competency and compensation policies across the country. This work was supported by the Early Educator Investment Collaborative, a national funder collaborative.

Contact: GG Weisenfeld and Ellen Frede

Effective State Offices of Early Learning (ESOEL)

This study was released in June 2021. Nationally, state agencies manage almost $20 billion in federal funding for a variety of early childhood programs serving children birth through age five, in addition to more than $8 billion in state funding for public preschool programs and other state investments in early learning (e.g. literacy/reading proficiency). State Offices of Early Learning (SOEL) have the authority to establish or implement policies, administer funding, and provide oversight for a variety of programs serving children birth through kindergarten entry (and in some states through early elementary grades). With the support of the Heising-Simons Foundation, NIEER will study how selected effective SOELs operate as an office of early learning within their respective agency, and how the capacities, functions, and staffing may influence the implementation of major programs serving young children, including the public preschool program. Read more here.

Contact: Lori Connors-Tadros

Implementing 15 Essential Elements for High Quality: A State and Local Policy Scan

In the 2016 Essential Elements report, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NIEER examined the extent to which all states, the District of Columbia, and three large cities support high-quality publicly funded preschool education. The framework for the assessment of state capacity is provided by “15 essential elements” of high-quality pre-K.

The 2018 Implementing 15 Essential Elements for High-Quality Pre-K: An Updated Scan of State Policies evaluates the extent to which 59 state-funded preschool programs across 44 states plus the District of Columbia satisfy 15 “essential elements” characterizing high-quality public preschool programs. For each element, NIEER determined whether criteria were fully met, partially met, or not met based primarily on the 2017-18 academic year.

Contact: GG Weisenfeld, Ellen Frede, Steven Barnett

Needs Assessment for Pre-K Programs Serving Children with Disabilities in Connecticut

Under the direction of the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), NIEER is conducting a needs assessment of preschool settings serving children with disabilities across the state. To gain a complete picture of the services being provided to preschool children with disabilities, the needs assessment includes a survey of school district Directors of Special Education and Early Childhood Supervisors, as well as site-level school principals/child care center directors. The goal of the survey is to provide CSDE with data to inform future professional development and technical assistance offerings for programs serving preschoolers with disabilities. Read more here.

Contact: Allison Friedman-Krauss, Milagros Nores, Karin Garver

Seattle Preschool Program

NIEER partnered with the University of Washington to evaluate Seattle’s preschool program. This multi-year and multi-site study used child evaluations on learning and development, as well as classroom observations. The study aimed to understand the contributions of the program to the city and the improvements in the program over time. See reports.

Contacts: Steve Barnett and Milagros Nores

Training for the Application of Standardized Instruments to Assess Early Child Development

NIEER supported the work of the Inter-American Development Bank in the Dominican Republic to create local capacity to assess infants and toddlers in large-scale research.

Contact: Milagros Nores