Closing the Opportunity Gap for Young Children (2023)

Statement of Task: Committee on Exploring the Opportunity Gap for Young Children from Birth to Age Eight

The definition of the opportunity gap as stated in the NASEM report:

the unequal and inequitable distribution of resources and experiences on the basis of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, disability, immigration status, community wealth, familial situations, geography, or other factors that contribute to or perpetuate inequities in wellbeing across groups of young children in outcomes including health, social and emotional development, and education. 

An ad hoc committee will conduct a consensus study on the causes and consequences of the opportunity gap for young children from birth to age 8. The committee will:

  • Identify and describe the opportunity gap (the potential causes—societal conditions that preclude equal access to high-quality educational opportunities) and its relationship, if any, with the achievement gap (the effect—subgroups of children who demonstrate lower performance than others and subgroups of children who do not achieve at a recognized level of performance).
  • Review available research on the effects of the opportunity gap on children from birth to age 8 and its relationship to demographic characteristics and institutional racism and discrimination.
  • Review available evidence on family and community factors, and pre-K to grade 3 school factors, that promote, mitigate, or diminish opportunities and achievement for children.
  • Discuss the economic costs posed by the opportunity gap and the potential economic benefits of investing in strategies, interventions, and policies to address opportunity gap concerns for children from birth to age 8.
  • Review evidence on promising federal and state government policy and program interventions that have addressed opportunity gap concerns for children from birth to age 8.
  • Develop recommendations for education policy, practice, and research to better understand the opportunity gap and promote success for all students pre-K to grade 3.
  • Identify the potential roles, actions, and supports appropriate for philanthropy to assist in addressing the opportunity gap for young children from birth to age 8.

The committee will produce a consensus report that synthesizes the information gathered on the relationship between the opportunity and achievement gaps for young children from birth to age eight, and make recommendations on how to improve conditions and promote success for children—at home, in communities, and in schools.


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Closing the Opportunity Gap for Young Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

9 Recommendations for Closing the Opportunity Gap from Birth to Age Eight

1. Strengthen Data Infrastructure

Create and support an effective equity-focused data infrastructure to guide federal, state, and local policy decisions aimed at closing the opportunity gap across income, race/ethnicity, disability, gender, language background, and immigrant status—and make this infrastructure available for research and learning.

2. Create High-Quality Early Opportunities for All

Establish accessible, inclusive, high-quality and science-based early learning opportunities for all children and families.

3. Implement Targeted Universal Public Early Care and Education

Fully implement a voluntary universal high-quality public early care and education system using a targeted universal approach to meet the needs of different groups and communities. Embed strong monitoring and accountability systems to address gaps in opportunity.

4. Provide Adequate and Equitable Support for Elementary Education and Out-of-School Programs

Operate elementary school education under a common quality framework, with quality benchmarks aligned with those in the early care and education (ECE) system and based on evidence-based policies and practices.

5. Integrate children with preschool special ed/early intervention programs

Fully integrate Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programming with general early childhood and K–12 education, including specific reforms addressing opportunity gaps identified in this report.

6. Psychosocial Care for Young Children and Their Families

Design, implement, and evaluate a comprehensive system of primary psychosocial care for young children and their families, under the leadership of an interagency group focused on children’s mental health and social-emotional well-being.

7. Be Accountable to Equitable Employment Standards and Policies

Review, update, and enforce existing labor standards and employment policies to address disparities that disproportionately affect working families with young children.

8. Promote Health Equity

Support policies and interventions targeting social determinants of health that create and perpetuate opportunity gaps at the community level.

9. Address Institutional Racism

Test and institute policies and protocols for identifying and addressing manifestations of institutional racism to reduce inequities in access to resources and quality services in education, health care, and public health.

Since 1976, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning has been dedicated to educating, enriching, and empowering children and families through comprehensive child and family development programs.