Early Care and Education Leadership Study (ExCELS)

2018-2023
Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

Leadership is widely recognized as an essential driver of organizational performance and improvement, but little is known about its role driving the quality of early childhood programs and outcomes for staff and children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) launched the Early Care and Education Leadership Study (ExCELS) to fill those definitional and measurement gaps. ExCELS is designed to help the early childhood field understand how effective leaders can improve quality experiences for children in early care and education (ECE) settings.

OPRE contracted with Mathematica and its subcontractor, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, to conduct this study. The study team will identify leadership constructs, map out and test their associations to outcomes, and develop a short-form instrument to measure ECE leadership in center-based settings. Project staff and OPRE will partner with substantive, technical, and practical experts as well as a range of stakeholders from government agencies, ECE-related associations, and leadership development programs to inform the work and produce information on ECE leadership to advance research, policy, and practice.

Over the next five years, this multiphase study will do the following:

  • Identify the features of effective ECE leadership by reviewing existing research literature
  • Construct a theory of change that shows how ECE leaders can act as change agents for quality improvement and that reflects the unique elements of ECE settings
  • Develop a compendium of existing measures to identify what information the field requires to better understand leadership in ECE settings
  • Identify promising initiatives to improve leadership quality and the methods to evaluate them
  • Conduct a descriptive study in 100 centers that receive funding from Head Start or the Child Care and Development Fund to test hypothesized relationships between leadership constructs and outcomes in the theory of change

The project will produce a literature review, a compendium of measures, and a report on the descriptive study as well as a series of briefs that share findings with a broad range of audiences throughout the course of the work. The final product will be a short-form measure of ECE leadership.