Early Learning Solutions

Our goal
To ensure that every child in the United States has access to high-quality, affordable, personalized early learning opportunities.
Preschool children participate in a class at the Valley View/Mount Rainier Early Learning Center. Seatac, WA on December 10, 2015.
Preschool children participate in a class at the Valley View/Mount Rainier Early Learning Center. ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Evan McGlinn

At a glance

  • We work with early childhood and technical experts on high-impact assessment tools that measure the quality of learning environments and help educators personalize learning for children from diverse backgrounds.
  • We support efforts to collect high-quality data that can be disaggregated to accurately inform early childhood policies and improve equity in early childhood education.
  • We support pre-K professional development, mentoring, and coaching for teachers so they can provide a hands-on learning environment and connect learning to children’s real-world experiences.
Our strategy

Our strategy

Early learning experiences vary widely across the United States and are not equitable for all children and families, and inequities in access and quality have only been amplified in recent years. We believe that high-quality early learning can have major benefits for young children, including improved social-emotional skills and enduring educational and life outcomes.

We work with educators to create the early learning solutions they need to support all children—particularly especially Black and Latino children and children experiencing poverty—and help prepare them for success in school and in life. These solutions include enriched, culturally responsive instructional resources, effective assessment tools to measure and support progress for each child, and actionable data that support a culture of continuous improvement.

 Preschool children participate in a class at the Valley View/Mount Rainier Early Learning Center.
Preschool children participate in a class at the Valley View/Mount Rainier Early Learning Center. ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Evan McGlinn

Visit our U.S. Program website

The foundation’s U.S. Program works to advance educational opportunity and economic mobility and strengthen communities across the U.S. Areas of focus include improving access to quality K-12 and postsecondary education for low-income students and students of color and making community grants across Washington State, where the Gates family has lived for generations.

Areas of focus

Areas of focus

To fulfill the promise of early childhood education, we focus on providing every educator with tools for success: enriched instruction, effective assessments, and actionable data. 

To help children make progress in pre-K, we must support educators in tailoring instruction to each individual child. We do this by working with early childhood and technical experts to develop, test, and share easy-to-use, high-impact options for educators. These include child-level and classroom-level assessments that measure the quality of learning environments as well as tools to help educators personalize learning for children with diverse needs and different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Assessments should be free of biases that make racial disparities in key skills appear substantially larger than they really are. They should also impose a minimal burden on teachers and provide real-time information to families.

When educators, families, researchers, and policymakers have access to a powerful early learning knowledge base, they can better understand student experiences and support success for all. And while the early learning field already collects data, what data are collected and how they are used varies greatly. For example, it is not possible to accurately assess early childhood policies without disaggregating data to understand the needs of diverse children and their learning experiences.

Engaging with early learning educators, advocates, and experts, we support the field in developing a data framework that is child-centric, prioritizes equity, and supports states in building more effective data systems. With access to actionable data, educators can gain the short-term and long-term insights they need to improve the whole-child classroom experience and create better outcomes for all children.

We know that children are more engaged in learning when they see and hear themselves reflected in the classroom environment and instruction. Delivering on the promise of enriched instruction in pre-K means developing more comprehensive whole-child curricula and building high-quality classroom environments where children learn through strong relationships and hands-on exploration. Lessons should connect to the real experiences and backgrounds of young learners.

Pre-K systems must also support educators with professional development that helps them achieve their goals of personalizing learning for each child. Teachers can reach their goals of continuous improvement when we connect them with mentoring, coaching, and learning communities.

As a first step, we’re supporting the National Academies of Sciences to conduct a study that combines existing evidence with the knowledge of experts to examine high-quality curricula and professional development tools that focus on meeting the needs of pre-K teachers, families, and children. These insights will help ensure that educators have what they need in the classroom to instill a love of learning in all children and give families confidence that their children will be well prepared for success in school and in life.

Why focus on early learning?

Why focus on early learning?

Nearly 2 million 4-year-olds attend public pre-K programs across the United States, and federal, state, and local leaders understand that critical learning and development happens in the early years. But early learning experiences vary widely, and not all children of that age even have access to publicly funded pre-K.

Educators need better data, tools, and curricula so they can set up more young learners for success. As our country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant disruptions it has caused, finding solutions to these challenges is more urgent than ever.

Preschool children participate in a class at the Hilltop Elementary School.
Preschool children participate in a class at the Hilltop Elementary School. ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Evan McGlinn
Strategy leadership

Strategy leadership

Sara Allan
Sara Allan
Director, Early Learning and Pathways
Sara Allan oversees efforts to increase the quality of pre-K systems and ensure that students effectively transition between education systems and into the workforce.
Marquita Davis
Marquita Davis
Deputy Director, Early Learning
Marquita Furness Davis leads the foundation’s multi-state early learning strategy which aims to ensure that all young children have access to high-quality, effective, and affordable preschool.
Our partners

Our partners

Child Trends
New America
National Academies
University of North Carolina
Related programs

Related programs

The foundation's programs in the U.S. work to transform schools, systems, and society to create life-changing opportunities for learning, growth, and prosperity.
Rainier Beach High School conducts their 2014 graduation ceremony at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington on June 16, 2014.
Washington State

The Washington State team works with partners to ensure equitable opportunities for children and families in Washington, where the Gates family has lived for generations. 

Students, like this 8th grade social studies class in Chicago, need safe, nurturing learning environments where they are equipped to meet high standards.
K-12 Education

The K-12 Education team supports educators and public schools in improving educational outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty. 

Economic Mobility and Opportunity

The Economic Mobility and Opportunity team works with partners to ensure that more people in the United States can climb the economic ladder and improve their lives.