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Preschool Beats Informal Care, Study Says

June 7, 2016
Lillian Mongeau
Education Week

Formal day care, like Head Start, public school pre-K and private centers, provide higher-quality care and education to both toddlers and 4-year-olds than informal, non-parent caregivers,according to a data analysis published in the most recent issue of Child Development, a scientific journal. 

The research, led by Daphna Bassok at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, looks at data from a database tracking about 14,000 children who were born in 2001. Overall, children who received care in a formal, center-based setting watched less TV, spent more time outside, were read to more often, and spent more time learning age-appropriate math skills. By age 5, they were better readers and mathematicians than their counterparts who received care from a babysitter, a non-parent relative, or in a home-based licensed-care setting. 

Teachers in formal care settings were far more likely to have a degree in early-childhood education or a related field (56 percent) than caregivers in informal settings (9 percent). Center-based teachers were also more likely to participate in ongoing training. Still, only 37 percent of such teachers met the researchers’ composite measure of high quality. Among informal caregivers, only 2 percent met the high-quality standard. Researchers posit that many of these differences can be attributed to the stricter regulations faced by formal centers.