Early Childhood Education

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation


The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) administers the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary accreditation system for early childhood programs serving young children, the NAEYC Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation.

The 1980s were a time of dramatic growth in the field of early childhood education. Women were entering the workforce in significant numbers and the number of single-parent families headed by women was also growing. Both these factors helped to create a demand for full-day, full-year child care. At the same time, the United States Congress was considering the Federal Interagency Day Care Requirements that would have created national standards for child-care programs. President Reagan eventually vetoed this legislation, which ended this possibility. State child-care regulations varied dramatically from state to state which added to the uneven landscape of program quality. In response to this situation, NAEYC decided to establish voluntary national standards for program quality in the context of a process by which programs could achieve that quality.

In 1985, NAEYC launched its early childhood program accreditation system in order to impact the quality of early childhood programs on a national level. NAEYC Accreditation is delivered through the association’s NAEYC Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation (the NAEYC Academy).

During its first few years, the growth of NAEYC Accreditation was steady and constant. In the early 1990s, however, both private and public support for accreditation grew substantially. States began to offer higher reimbursement rates to accredited programs. Private groups such as the American Business Collaborative provided funds to programs to support their achievement of accreditation. These and other initiatives directly affected the number of programs pursuing accreditation in general, and NAEYC Accreditation in particular.

As a result, in the NAEYC Academy’s first two decades, demand for accreditation grew beyond expectations and the system was almost outstripped by the demands placed upon it. In 1999, the NAEYC Governing Board realized that not only had its accreditation system outgrown its original structure, but that early childhood education and the accreditation system itself needed to be reexamined and positioned for the next twenty years, so the future impact could be as great as that of the first twenty years.

The Board established the National Commission on Accreditation Reinvention to conduct a comprehensive review of its accreditation system. The Commission was asked to recommend changes that would prepare the association’s accreditation for the future and continue to offer early childhood programs a vehicle for improvements in program quality.

At the conclusion of its two-year appointment, the Reinvention Commission made ten recommendations to NAEYC’s Governing Board. The intent of the recommendations was to strengthen and restore the reliability, accountability, and credibility of NAEYC’s accreditation system by redesigning it:

• To establish NAEYC Accreditation as a standard-bearer for program excellence.

• To improve program accountability for families and others.

• To focus NAEYC’s accreditation system on programs for children from birth through kindergarten.

Following approval by the NAEYC Governing Board of the reinvention commission’s recommendations, it appointed a Commission on NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria. This second Commission’s recommendations on early childhood program standards and accreditation performance criteria were approved by the NAEYC Governing Board in spring 2005.

The Governing Board also appointed a Council for NAEYC Accreditation, to work with the NAEYC Academy on policy changes to support the delivery of the new accreditation system. The NAEYC Council is accountable to the NAEYC Governing Board and also has as part of its responsibility to monitor the new system’s performance.

NAEYC Academy is in the midst of implementing the reinvented accreditation system. There are over 10,000 accredited programs that serve over 800,000 children. Many of the reinvention commission’s recommendations have now been established as NAEYC Academy policies or procedures. NAEYC’s early childhood program accreditation system was completely reinvented and fully operational in the fall of 2006.

Kim Means