Placing children at the center of their education

Colorado has made great strides in its early childhood mixed-delivery system. However, more is needed to provide children and families equitable access to high-quality services. Through preschool development grant federal funding managed by the Colorado Office of Early Childhood, Early Milestones partnered with Child Trends and Marzano Research to create Colorado’s five-year strategic plan for children birth through age five and their families.

With guidance from the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, input from families and service providers and findings from the Colorado Shines Brighter Needs Assessment informed Colorado’s strategic plan. Colorado’s plan builds upon current activities and addresses the needs of families, communities, and the state early childhood system.

Ideal Learning in Colorado Report

Learn the real and perceived barriers to a broader adoption of Ideal Learning models (e.g., Montessori, Tools of the Mind) in pre-kindergarten through third grade. The report offers opportunities that can be leveraged to expand the use of these models statewide.

Ideal Learning Report cover

The Colorado Context

Funding & Choice

In 2017, Colorado spent an average of $9,809 per student per year in elementary and secondary school, ranking 40th in the United States. This rate is significantly below the national average of $12,201 per student and far lower than leading states that spend over $20,000 each year.

Colorado’s open enrollment policy allows families to enroll their children in any public school that has availability, including one that is outside their district boundaries. Despite legal and philosophical support for choice, actual choice remains limited. Some school districts, including Denver Public Schools, have embraced and promoted choice to encourage innovation, but access and enrollment in different types of schools are not equitable across neighborhoods.

What Stakeholders are Saying

Denver Public Schools education partners provided feedback on the challenges of educating young children.

We are our own worst enemies. If we can’t even agree on the right strategies, we won’t get anyone on the train with us.

There is a fundamental tension between something that requires patience – namely child development – and a system that is inherently impatient. Many of the positive aspects and benefits of whole child approaches don’t show up in test scores, but test scores are emphasized in our accountability-driven culture and system.

Creating more alternative pathways to accountability is a real opportunity. There will always be some basic form of apples-to-apples comparisons to enable continuous improvement, competition, and choice, but the state should complement/supplement those with more nuanced measures that recognize quality in different ways.


Thank you to the many partners who provide guidance to make this initiative successful, including state and local education leaders, experts from higher education, Ideal Learning practitioners, the Early Education Department of Denver Public Schools, and the Preschool Through 3rd Grade Office (P-3 Office) of the Colorado Department of Education. This work was made possible by a grant from the Trust for Learning.

  • Trust for Learning