Skip Navigation

Home Blogs Promoting more equitable early childhood education: Introducing
REL Southwest’s LEAD partnership in Oklahoma

Promoting more equitable early childhood education: Introducing
REL Southwest’s LEAD partnership in Oklahoma

Southwest | July 05, 2023

A group of young students in class, the middle of whom is smiling

High-quality early learning experiences provide multiple benefits for the development of young children—particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.1 Research suggests that these benefits persist into adolescence, with reduced special education placement, reduced grade retention, and increased high school graduation.2 The benefits persist even into adulthood, with increased college enrollment, higher earnings, and reduced criminal behavior.3

Ensuring the use of research-based practices for young learners

To promote more equitable access to high-quality early childhood education for all learners, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), Anadarko Public Schools, and Shawnee Public Schools have formed the Leading Early Childhood and Achievement Development (LEAD) partnership. Oklahoma has long been at the forefront of early childhood education, consistently scoring among the top states on the National Institute for Early Education Research quality standards. In 1980, Oklahoma was one of the first states to launch an early childhood education program for 4-year-old students, and in 1988, it was the second state to offer free state-funded prekindergarten (preK) to all 4-year-olds.

To build on this strong foundation, OSDE wants to ensure that all preK and kindergarten teachers across the state are using research-based early learning practices, including play-based learning and high-quality teacher-student interactions. Through the LEAD partnership, REL Southwest will codevelop, test, and iteratively refine a professional learning intervention to build school leaders' knowledge of research-based early learning practices, as well as develop their instructional leadership skills and provide resources to support preK and kindergarten teachers' implementation of those practices.

The LEAD intervention will include the following activities:

  • A two-day, in-person kickoff training for school leaders to learn about the intervention, build foundational knowledge of research-based early learning practices, and understand their role in supporting teachers to implement research-based practices in preK and kindergarten classrooms.
  • Five asynchronous training modules for school leaders and preK and kindergarten teachers to build their knowledge of research-based early learning practices.
  • Five professional learning community sessions for school leaders to support the adoption of policies and practices that encourage teachers to use research-based early learning practices.

In the short term, the intended outcomes are that Oklahoma school leaders participating in LEAD will demonstrate increased knowledge of research-based early learning practices and school-level policies and practices that support teachers' use of those practices. In the medium term, LEAD will help school leaders adopt policies and practices to support teachers' use of research-based early learning practices, and preK and kindergarten teachers will understand and implement research-based early learning practices. In the long term, these practices are expected to lead to better academic outcomes for young learners.

Building on a portfolio of early childhood education projects in Oklahoma

The LEAD partnership builds on REL Southwest's previous early childhood work in Oklahoma. These efforts include working with OSDE to conduct a pilot study of an Early Learning Inventory. In addition, REL Southwest helped build the capacity of OSDE staff to develop and administer surveys to assess preK teachers' use of curricula and assessments. At the classroom level, REL Southwest provided training to support Oklahoma teachers in using formative assessment to target the skills and behaviors that promote learning in early elementary grades. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership  developed just-in-time resources to address the needs of teachers and families to support young children's learning at home. Finally, REL Southwest conducted a study of participation in state-funded preK programs in Oklahoma to help OSDE understand disparities in participation between student groups.

Looking ahead

During the next five years, the LEAD partnership will pilot and refine the LEAD intervention across two cohorts. Cohort 1 will include four schools during the 2023/24 school year, and cohort 2 will include four additional schools during the 2024/25 school year. After refining the LEAD intervention, REL Southwest will test its efficacy with a third cohort of 40 schools during the 2025/26 school year.

The partnership is looking to connect with districts across Oklahoma to participate in LEAD. If you are interested in participating, contact Janice Esau ( or Katie Dahlke ( to schedule a time to learn more and ask questions.

Explore the following resources for more information on REL Southwest's work in Oklahoma to support early childhood education and to learn more about play-based learning:

From REL Southwest:

From REL Midwest:


1 Cannon et al. (2018); Deming (2009); Heckman & Masterov (2007); Heckman et al. (2010); McCoy et al. (2017); van Huizen & Plantenga (2018); Yoshikawa et al. (2013).

2 Bai et al. (2020); McCoy et al. (2017).

3 Cannon et al. (2018); Chetty et al. (2011); Deming (2009); García et al. (2017); Heckman et al. (2010); Ludwig & Miller (2007).


Bai, Y., Ladd, H. F., Muschkin, C. G., & Dodge, K. A. (2020). Long-term effects of early childhood programs through eighth grade: Do the effects fade out or grow? Children and Youth Services Review, 112, Article 104890.

Cannon, J. S., Kilburn, M. R., Karoly, L. A., Mattox, T., Muchow, A. N., & Buenaventura, M. (2018). Investing early: Taking stock of outcomes and economic returns from early childhood programs. RAND.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Hilger, N., Saez, E., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Yagan, D. (2011). How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project STAR. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126(4), 1593–1660.

Deming, D. (2009). Early childhood intervention and life-cycle skill development: Evidence from Head Start. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(3), 111–134.

García, J. L., Heckman, J. J., Leaf, D. E., & Prados, M. J. (2017). The life-cycle benefits of an influential early childhood program (Working Paper No. 22993). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Heckman, J. J., & Masterov, D. V. (2007). The productivity argument for investing in young children (Working Paper No. 13016). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Heckman, J. J., Moon, S. H., Pinto, R., Savelyev, P. A., & Yavitz, A. (2010). The rate of return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program. Journal of Public Economics, 94(1), 114–128.

Ludwig, J., & Miller, D. L. (2007). Does Head Start improve children's life chances? Evidence from a regression discontinuity design. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(1), 159–208.

McCoy, D. C., Yoshikawa, H., Ziol-Guest, K. M., Duncan, G. J., Schindler, H. S., Magnuson, K., Yang, R., Koepp, A., & Shonkoff, J. P. (2017). Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes. Educational Researcher, 46(8), 474–487.

van Huizen, T., & Plantenga, J. (2018). Do children benefit from universal early childhood education and care? A meta-analysis of evidence from natural experiments. Economics of Education Review, 66, 206–222.

Yoshikawa, H., Weiland, C., Brooks-Gunn, J., Burchinal, M. R., Espinosa, L. M., Gormley, W. T., Ludwig, J., Magnuson, K. A., Phillips, D., & Zaslow, M. J. (2013). Investing in our future: The evidence base on preschool education. Society for Research in Child Development, Washington, DC.


Mia Mamone

Mia Mamone

Connect with REL Southwest