“The kids I am most worried about right now are those who are not enrolled in public preschool and kindergarten,” says Jenna Conway, chief school readiness officer at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Preschool and kindergarten teachers have been telling her that many families seemed to opt out in the fall and children have been disappearing from virtual classrooms since the beginning of the year.

“It is unusual to see so many families either opting out altogether or dropping out midyear,” she told us. “We need data to understand what is going on so we can figure out how to adjust policy and resources for the field.”

This isn’t the first time Conway has looked to data for insights on how to address a policy challenge. Through multiple, longstanding research-practice partnerships (RPPs) with university-based researchers, she has advocated for fast-turnaround data collection and analyses that allow her to repeatedly “take the pulse” of young children’s experiences throughout the pandemic.

These analyses have illuminated a variety of challenges. They showed a nearly 20% drop in pre-K enrollment overall, as well as higher drop rates for Black and Hispanic children, and children from low-income families. Fall assessment data showed that over a quarter of incoming kindergarteners—far more than in any other year—were at risk for reading failure.

Read the full article about research-practice partnerships by Daphna Bassok, Anna Markowitz, Pamela A. Morris, and Jenna Conway at Brookings.