Early Learning

Supporting Early Learning

The years before kindergarten are the most critical in shaping a child’s foundation for learning.  In understanding that future achievements depend on a high-quality learning environment from an early age, President Obama is committed to providing the type of early start needed for children from birth through age five. 

The uneven patchwork of early learning programs provided for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students contributes to their lower achievement in future education.  Recent Data of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics support the provision of more early learning programs to foster American Indian students’ early development.  In studies of early childhood development measures, at 9 months, American Indian infants show no measurable difference from the general population.  However, by age 2, American Indian students begin to fall behind national scores in tests of specific cognitive skills in vocabulary, listening comprehension, matching and counting.  By age 4, smaller percentages of American Indian children demonstrate age-appropriate language, literacy, mathematics and color-identification skills, compared to the total population of children (Tribal Leaders Speak 2010).

The achievement levels of AI/AN early learners have not gone unnoticed.  In accordance to Executive Order 13592, funding available for AI/AN early learning programs challenges states to develop and implement models that improve the consistency of and access to high-quality programs that focus on more children entering kindergarten prepared.  The 2012 Presidential budget request includes investments that fund grants to improve early learning programs, including programs specifically for Native American students.  There is still much work to be done. “While student achievement is up since 2009 in both grades in mathematics and in 8th grade reading, it’s clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation’s children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century…It is time for America to renew the promise of providing all children a world-class education” (U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s statement on the 2011 NAEP results).


Grants established by the Department of Education’s Early Learning Initiative, supported by the Office of Early Learning (OEL), plan to strengthen AI/AN early learning programs by improving the health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes, so that all children, particularly those with high needs, are on track for graduating from high school.

Early Learning Challenge Fund

For more information on the research findings described above, visit:

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Status and Trend in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Native, September 2008, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/nativetrends/highlights.asp, accessed March 16, 2011.