Educational First Steps

Thanks to strong community partnerships like ours with The Miles Foundation, EFS has been able to continue to broaden our reach and extend our impact to children and families most in need in Tarrant County. We look forward to continuing our work to build a strong foundation and a bright future for Fort Worth.
— John Breitfeller, Executive Director, Educational First Steps

Educational First Steps (EFS) understands the importance of starting education excellence early.  Since 1990, its mission has been to transform low-performing childcare centers in impoverished neighborhoods into nationally accredited, high-quality preschools.

Why Starting Early Matters for Kids…

With 90% of brain development completed by the time a child turns five, decades of research have proven that the first five years of life can set the trajectory for a child’s future learning and life success. Without the proper early childhood environment, children are more likely to drop out of school, face academic and social remediation, and suffer from a multitude of related issues later in life that keeps them from living up to their full potential.[1]


Why Starting Early Matters for Families and Communities…

EFS knows that starting educational excellence early isn’t just important for kids. Families, especially those living in at-risk neighborhoods, need stable, safe, and trustworthy childcare options to allow them to pursue critical education, job training, and employment opportunities.

High-quality early education is an essential ingredient not only to developing successful students – but also to building self-sufficient families, a sustainable workforce, and a healthy community.

That is why EFS is addressing the urgent need to ensure all children are given the foundation they need to succeed. EFS employs a unique, dual approach to this work, focusing on two primary goals:

  • Increase the quality of teaching and curricula at early childhood centers’ to better equip children with the development and learning they need in their first five years, and
  • Strengthen the childcare centers’ enrollment and economic models to ensure their long-term sustainability.

When childcare centers offer high-quality programming with a viable business model, this not only benefits the centers themselves, but also the families whose livelihoods depend on their childcare centers’ stability.

The EFS Model: Four Steps to Excellence 2.0

EFS’ Four Steps to Excellence 2.0 program places childcare centers on the path to national accreditation from two of the most rigorous accrediting agencies – the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Accreditation Commission of Early Care and Education (NAC).


In about 36 months, childcare centers earn accreditation at no cost to them or to parents.  Once accredited, these childcare centers provide the highest-quality early education to those children enrolled in their programs.

EFS’ quality pathway program provides a continuum of evaluation, mentoring, training and resource services, delivered through a progressive four-step process:

Phase 1: Discovery (4 months)

  • The center, director, and staff undergo an evaluation to establish a baseline of quality.
  • EFS and the childcare center build terms for a healthy go-forward working relationship.

Phase 2: Foundation (about 24 months)

  • EFS delivers multi-dimensional training aimed at helping teachers master the best practices in safety, social-emotional health and pre-academic learning.

Phase 3: Readiness (about 12 months)

  • The center begins a rigorous self-study stage, assisted by EFS, in which the center demonstrates its superior quality to national early childhood experts

Phase 4: Accredited Partner

  • The center receives national accreditation and becomes a go-forward “Accredited Partner” of Educational First Steps.
  • EFS activates its Economic and Enrollment Services programs to help the center reach enrollment capacity and build sustainable economic stability.

A Holistic, Structural Approach

EFS employs this comprehensive approach to enabling at-risk childcare centers to achieve and maintain national standards of quality to bring lasting structural change to the childcare industry in the North Texas neighborhoods that need it most.

Once a childcare center obtains quality accreditation, EFS stays engaged by providing ongoing training and coaching to the center director and early childhood professionals. This enables each center to have the critical support it needs to maintain quality practices, even amidst teacher turnover and other challenges a center faces when it is part of and serves families in an economically challenged neighborhood.

Because of this permanent partnership, EFS can play a key role in helping center directors to develop a better marketing skill set to enroll more students into each of its partner centers, elevating the economic stability of these at-risk organizations. Changing the economic equation for these quality centers serves as a structural change for the whole neighborhood and its working families, as it eliminates the “revolving door” of short-lived lower-quality childcare centers that are typical in these at-risk neighborhoods. EFS’ support in this way serves as a foundation of critical stability that the community can build upon.

The Vision: An Ecosystem of Excellence in Tarrant County

Educational First Steps serves 6,000 children in North Texas through its quality programming, and 1,500 children in Tarrant County alone.  With a focus on both childcare center quality and sustainability, EFS endeavors to create an ecosystem of excellence – one that helps children, and lifts up local partners – including school districts, small businesses, teachers, and working families.

In 2012, there were virtually no at-risk childcare facilities accredited in Tarrant County.  The EFS team’s dedication to quality in this region has resulted in accrediting seven (7) childcare facilities since that time, with another three (3) centers nearing that high standard. With over half of the Tarrant County children EFS serves now in accredited facilities, the organization is seeing tangible results from its local work over the last five years. EFS’ local reach now spans almost 150 early childhood classrooms (serving children from 6 weeks to 4 years old), 225 teachers and 18 center directors.

The organization’s vision will continue to be steadfast – to bring key at-risk neighborhoods to a critical mass of quality childcare centers so that, ultimately, a majority of the most vulnerable young children within Tarrant County are given the opportunity to succeed.

As a collaborative organization working with multiple local collective action groups including the Early Learning Alliance and Read Fort Worth, EFS understands the importance of starting early – and of staying focused on that goal, together.

EFS will continue to be a leader in driving the education pathway to excellence for young children and families in Tarrant County.

[1] Source: