The Science of Scaling-Up High-Quality Early Childhood Programs

As the critical importance—and relative scarcity—of high-quality, accessible early childhood education and care programs becomes increasingly recognized, there is more opportunity and more need than ever to scale-up the programs that truly meet families’ needs. The Scale-Up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why Interventions Lose Impact at Scale and What We Can Do About It is an edited volume that examines the complexity of scaling in this field, and promising approaches to overcoming those challenges.
On October 20, 2021, Child Trends and the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago hosted a webinar with several of the book’s editors and contributors. Panelists identified threats to scalability, discussed the “science of scaling,” and offered recommendations to help professionals consider scalability in their own decision-making.
A recording of the webinar is available here.

Griffin Applied Economics Incubator

The successful translation of research into real-world applications is integral to the work done at the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health.

Throughout the course of the 2019-2020 academic year, we led a special initiative designed to do just that. In partnership with the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at the University of Chicago, the TMW Center conceptualized and executed the first Griffin Applied Economics Incubator. Under our joint stewardship, the inaugural year of the Incubator was dedicated to advancing research and understanding around the effective scaling of early interventions.

The video below illustrates why it is crucial for those of us in early childhood to both tackle the challenges and harness the power of scaling.


Over the course of the year, the TMW Center planned and executed Incubator activities that generated momentum around the notion that understanding how to scale promising interventions is the next frontier in the evidence-based policymaking process—a critical missing link that stands to enhance the efficacy of research, practice, and policy in early childhood education and development. Those activities included: awarding grants to support innovative research projects; hosting world-renowned scholars as Incubator visitors; holding formal convenings and informal networking/mentoring sessions where scholars exchanged ideas and discussed how to incorporate the science of scaling in their work; curating an edited volume and special issue of a leading academic journal; publishing columns, op-eds, and interviews in order to advance the idea that all stakeholders have a role to play in designing, championing, and implementing scalable early childhood programs; and much more. 

You can learn more about the year’s activities and accomplishments here and here. For more on the science of scaling, please see our FAQ.” 

Moving forward, the TMW Center will continue many of the activities and relationships that originated as part of the Incubator. Notably, we will be publishing an edited volume, The Scale-Up Effect in Early Childhood And Public Policy: Why Interventions Lose Impact At Scale and What We Can Do About It (Routledge), and hosting a two-day convening of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and advocates in June 2021.

It is our hope that these efforts, coupled with those of so many others, yield compelling support for scalable policies that positively impact the future health and well-being of our children.

Rohit and Harvanit Kumar Conference on the Economics of Early Childhood Education: Leveraging the Healthcare System to Impact Educational Disparities

The science is clear, inequities in the language and learning environments of children age birth to three inhibit foundational brain development and disproportionately affect children living in poverty. These disparities grow exponentially through a child’s early years, negatively impacting her educational trajectory and life course outcomes. Most families interact with the healthcare system more than any other institution during their child’s formative years. Though researchers and practitioners have begun to explore the healthcare sector as an avenue to reach families during this time, its potential remains vastly underutilized.

Leveraging the Healthcare Systems to Impact Educational Disparities was an interdisciplinary conference that aimed to elevate the role of the healthcare sector, highlight current approaches, and harness its capacity to intervene early and have a lasting impact on a child’s future health and well-being. We were joined by pediatricians, intervention developers, researchers and funders for a stimulating discussion on topics including:

  • What are specific ways the healthcare sector can advance parental knowledge of child development and impact educational disparities?
  • What are some current programs that work through the healthcare sector and their impact?
  • How case we use the science of scaling to replicate, scale, and fund evidence-based programs?

All conference sessions and related documents can be found below.

Opening remarks

Dr. Suskind’s Slides


Session #1 – Understanding the U.S. Healthcare System: Incentives, motivations and opportunities – Diane Alexander, Jocelyn Guyer, and Donna Cohen Ross

Diane Alexander’s Slides
View Jocelyn Guyer and Donna Cohen Ross’s Slides


Session #2 – Principles of Implementation Science: HealthySteps as a model and case study – Rahil Briggs and Allison Metz

View Rahil Briggs and Allison Metz’s slides.

View Supplemental materials for this session:

What is HealthySteps?

HealthySteps Overview

Healthy Steps Logic Model

HealthySteps Evidence Summary

Early Childhood Behavioral Health Integration Activities and HealthySteps: Sustaining Practice, Averting Costs


Session #3 – What we can learn from current approaches that leverage the healthcare system to improve child outcomes – Amanda Feinstein, Perri Klass, Dayna Long, Alan Mendelsohn, MD, and Marc Hernandez (Moderator)

View Alan Mendelsohn’s slides.

View supplemental materials:

Reach Out and Read: The Evidence

Public Funding for Reach Out and Read

Oakland Promise Brilliant Baby


Session #4 – Impacts of Early Childhood on Health and Life Outcomes – James Heckman

View Professor Heckman’s slides: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.


Closing Comments – John List