How We Built the Navigator


To support policymakers and leaders in their systems-building work, the Navigator’s 5 categories of policy strategies and innovations provide a framework by which to drive equity and excellence in early education.

On their own and in concert, the 5 categories of strategies and innovations are key to positive change; each can enhance access, affordability, and quality, and drive the more intensive systems-building work that is needed across the nation. 

With the 5 categories of policy strategies and innovations as the organizing framework, we also wanted to be sure that for each strategy or innovation, we provided the context for implementation—the demographics, political landscapes, early education program information, early education workforce data, and funding sources and streams.

Data Sources

To accomplish our objectives and populate the Navigator, we used the following sources to both find the primary data and generate leads to primary data:

  • Existing datasets (for example, datasets produced by the National Institute for Early Education Research, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, the First Five Years Fund, and the Census Bureau)
  • Reports and briefs (for example, documents produced by the Education Commission of the States, the Bipartisan Policy Center, etc.)
  • General internet searching – using key words and phrases connected to each of the 5 categories of strategies and innovations

Once our dataset was complete, we cross-referenced, analyzed, and synthesized information obtained from all sources to create data visualizations and to summarize the strategies and innovations. For example, we generated charts to show:

  • The racial and ethnic composition of young children in a state or city; 
  • The median wages received by early educators over time and in relation to their counterparts in K-12 schools; 
  • The federal and state funding each state receives and generates to support their respective early education systems.

We also crafted short, digestible summaries of each policy strategy and innovation to help users understand how each one supports the structuring, financing, expansion, and improvement of early education in that particular state or city. We include links to primary and secondary sources alongside the summaries for users who wish to learn more.

Connecting to Research

To ensure connections to today’s research, we linked the policy strategies and innovations in each category to relevant findings from our groundbreaking statewide study of early education and care, the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H).

Future Updates

Approximately twice a year, following the process above, we will review existing content and make any needed updates. We will also add new data, including new policy strategies and innovations, as they become available.