Early Investments

Building Evidence Regarding Public Investments in Early Care and Education


Across the country, states and cities are investing in early child care and preschool education. These investments stand on evidence that early intervention can positively affect life trajectories. For example, classic studies demonstrate a return to quality care and education in terms of decreased teenage pregnancy, less criminal activity and increased school completion. Yet, recent evidence questions whether these returns are always realized. Rapid expansion of preschool and child care “slots” for children requires concomitant expansion in the workforce of teachers and educators. These front-line professionals in turn need initial education and training as well as ongoing professional development and coaching in order to provide experiences that are both conducive to learning and that nurture their own and attending children’s physical, social and emotional well-being.

Building this capacity is further complicated by the multifaceted marketplace of early child care and education. Unlike during elementary school, when nearly all children enroll in public schools, less than half of young children attend “organized child care facilities,” such as centers and schools, and, relatively few of these facilities fall under the direct control of the education system. Early care also takes place in homes, often by grandparents or other relatives but also by non-relatives in licensed and license-exempt family child care. This diverse landscape complicates early care and education practice and policy, juxtaposing diverse conceptions of what young children need and what levels of professionalization and pay the workforce requires.


Current Projects

Our current projects are organized to encompass several inter-related aspects of early care and education.


Classroom Quality

How well do existing quality measures work?

How can we design better measures?


ECE Workforce

What is the landscape of ECE leaders, teachers and providers, in Illinois and nationally?

What supports exist (and are needed) for the workforce (especially to support high quality practice)?


ECE Market

How do supply and demand align – and what are costs – across the state?

Which programs and providers use what funding streams?

Which families use what kinds of ECE?


Collaborative Projects

Social Emotional Teaching and Learning (SETL) Lab

McCormick Workforce Initiative

Math at Home

Family Resiliency Center


“Making smart, strategic investments in early childhood can help children thrive for years to come. We are conducting rigorous academic research to better inform—and therefore strengthen—policies for children in care and education settings.”

Lead Experts


Expertise: Social Policy

Rachel Gordon's research broadly aims to measure and model the contexts of children and families' lives, often using longitudinal data sets.

Associate Professor

Elizabeth T. Powers has conducted research on the incentive effects of public insurance programs, the effects of child health on maternal labor supply, employment effects of the minimum wage, and the caregiver labor market. Ongoing research projects are in the areas of children’s cognitive development, U.S.-Mexican migration, child support policy, work disability and the Disability Insurance program, and long-term care facilities.

Affiliated Experts

Senior Lecturer and Program Coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Program

Expertise: Social Policy

Catherine Main is a senior lecturer in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where her clinical and research interests focus on developing early childhood educators to serve in under-resourced, urban environments.

She has more than 20 years of teaching experiences in preschool, kindergarten, primary grades, and university settings. Her work includes innovative and responsive program development in Early Childhood Education at UIC. Main designed and developed a Blended Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education program and an Early Childhood Alternative certification program. She provides consultation, professional development, and program evaluation services for a variety of organizations and regularly presents her program work at national conferences and as an invited speaker at local conferences. Main also serves on several advisory groups and boards including the Illinois Early Learning Council Program Standards and Quality Committee, the Harold Washington Chicago Community College Child Development Program Advisory Board, and is a member of the Illinois Articulation Initiative Early Childhood panel.  She is co-chair of the Illinois Higher Education Learning and Professional Development Work Group, the lead on the state team participating in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Innovation to Incubation (i2I) program focusing on Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce, and the current President of Illinois Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators (ILAECTE).

Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Licensure Programs and Technology

Expertise: Social Policy

Kathleen M. Sheridan is an associate professor in the department of Educational Psychology. Some of her research interests include early math literacy, professional development for early childhood teachers and caregivers, online learning and course development in higher education, and teacher presence in online courses. Sheridan has been published in leading academic journals, delivered keynote speeches, and has presented her work at workshops and at national and international conferences. She teaches courses in assessment, child development and constructivist approaches to development. Currently she is the principle investigator on 2 grant-funded projects that focus on early math and the professional development of caregivers, teachers and leaders.

Most recently, her new project: Early Math Matters: A Math at Home Professional Development Series for Child Care Providers, launched 8 FREE online courses housed in the Illinois Gateways to Opportunity I-Learning site.  Providers receive 1 hour of Gateways approved training and 1 CPDU for each course they complete. Sheridan and her team are collecting data to examine whether the delivery modality and the courses are effective in changing provider’s practice and self-efficacy about including math in their early childhood classrooms. 

Assistant Professor

Expertise: Social Policy

Katherine (Kate) Zinsser is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Community and Prevention Research program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Through her research Kate strives to support the social-emotional well-being and development of young children and their caregivers by conducting applied research that can benefit practice and policy. Current projects include: developing research-based tools to foster social and emotional teaching practices including child assessments, classroom observation, and professional learning strategies; exploring the ways that high-quality teachers are able to positively affect children’s social and emotional learning; and examining how organizational and ecological characteristics of educational settings – such as state education policies, quality rating improvement systems, workplace climate, and administrator practices – affect social and emotional teaching.