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Point of View: Clear goals, metrics needed to track early childhood gains

Almost four years ago, the Potts Family Foundation unveiled what we called the Oklahoma Early Childhood Coalition, which we later dubbed OK25BY25. Our stated goal was to move Oklahoma to be among the top 25 states by 2025 in key early childhood metrics.

The final list of metrics was determined through a staged process using subject-matter experts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. The foundation had no role in determining the metrics other than the invitation to participate and the convening of the meetings. We simply wanted to ensure that transparency and accountability were an integral part of the process. The criteria for metric selection were: the metric had to be collected annually, it had to be collected by all 50 states, it had to have a history of having been collected over time, and it had to relate to our main childhood demographic: families with children pre-birth to 5.

We believe many of Oklahoma’s socio-economic problems exist due to the lack of taking a two-generation approach, whether those are issues like poverty, education or health outcomes. We have chosen to focus our philanthropic efforts on evidence-based/informed practices and programs that have demonstrated positive returns, both human and financial.

We say all of this to emphasize several critical points as we embark on the 2020 legislative session. If we are to aspire to be a top 10 or top 25 state, we need to have specific metrics against which we can track. We need to know, through data/evidence, what factors (programs, remedies, therapies) have the best chance of improving the movement of these metrics toward the stated goal. Based upon those findings, we need to ensure that the necessary financial, human and physical capital is allocated to those factors. We need to monitor progress or regress of each metric. And, we need to understand that even if we, as a state, improve our metric values over time, our rankings may not improve due to improvements other states might have made.

Finally, given the above, we should thoroughly review best practices, especially in those states that have made ranking improvements during the past 5-10 years. Are there policies, practices, partnerships in higher-performing states that we should review and consider adopting?

If we are to use data to help drive better decision-making in this state — and we should — we need to clearly articulate the goal and the metrics by which we plan to track our progress. We hope all parties responsible for improving the socio-economic and business climates for all Oklahomans keep these basic, but essential, points in mind during the legislative session — and beyond!

Knutson is president/CEO of the Potts Family Foundation. Potts formerly held those positions.