How Can Early Childhood Programs Best be Replicated?

Conference for funders of early childhood on identifying and replicating successful projects

Replication and Program Strategies, Philadelphia, held a conference in 2000 of funders of early childhood programs.

The purpose of the conference was to give funders of such programs a chance to discuss the issues and opportunities they face.

Replication and Program Strategies, founded in 1993 partially with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funding, helps effective social programs and organizations extend and sustain their reach. (See Program Results on ID# 022656.)

Key Results

  • Under the auspices of the National Center for Children in Poverty, and with additional support from the Carnegie Foundation, the conference took place conference in New York City on June 15 and 16, 2000. There were 22 participants, most from private foundations. (See the Appendix.)
  • Replication and Program Strategies commissioned four papers to be presented and discussed. They addressed four essential questions:
    • What standards or criteria have been used to identify early childhood programs that work? What are their relative advantages/benefits and disadvantages/costs?
    • How have successful early childhood programs been identified for (1) infants/toddlers and (2) preschoolers? What characterizes programs that work in each of these domains?
    • What are the most important issues that influence whether and how states mount efforts to identify and replicate successful early childhood programs?
    • What are the most important issues that influence whether and how the developer of a successful early childhood program attempts to get it replicated on a multistate basis?
  • The discussion began with a survey paper on the context in which childhood programs have been identified and replicated.

    Then participants looked at case studies of three seminal programs:
    • Early Head Start, a Head Start initiative to serve pregnant women and low-income families with infants and toddlers, which began in 1995 and has federal funding.
    • Parents as Teachers, a voluntary parent-education program, which began in Missouri and is now in 49 states.
    • The Nurse Home Visiting Program for low-income, first-time mothers, which was started by the University of Rochester in rural areas of New York, and replicated in Memphis, Tenn, and Denver, by its founder, David Olds, Ph.D.
  • Among the points of agreement were the following:
    • The early childhood field needs to develop and improve systems as well as replicate existing programs.
    • Stakeholders should be involved from the outset in planning a program.
    • Some programs — Early Head Start, for instance — were scaled up into a wide-scale implementation while their effectiveness was being evaluated; continuous quality improvement is built in.
    • There is a continuing tension between replicating specific programs versus creating policies and infrastructure.
    • Policymakers may take credit for how many sites they have established without ever finding out if the program works.
    • Quality-improvement efforts may enable existing systems such as Early Head Start to work better, but that approach still runs the risk of getting locked into set ways of doing things.
    • Sometimes replicating a popular program is the only real opportunity available politically.
  • The papers are reprinted along with summaries of the findings and discussion in a 106-page report Identifying, Replicating, and Improving Successful Early Childhood Programs: A Conference for Funders. The report was given to about 150 individuals, including those who had been invited to the conference but did not attend.

    There was no further distribution or dissemination, and no publications resulted from the conference other than the report.

Though the National Center for Children in Poverty had initially expressed interest in follow-up, the project director states that interest has waned, and as a result none is anticipated or planned.


RWJF supported the project with a grant of $24,037 between April 1997 and May 2001.

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