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Study Finds Large Quality Differences in Early Education Settings

June 7, 2016
Aaron Loewenberg

Among children between the ages of three and five, just under 80 percent receive care and education from someone other than a parent. The settings in which children receive these services vary greatly. There are formal, classroom-based settings such as state-funded pre-K, Head Start, and private child care centers. But children also receive care and education in informal settings such as home-based family child care and home-based care provided by nonparental caretakers like nannies or babysitters.

According to a new study published in the journal Child Development, there are significant differences in the quality of care received by children enrolled in formal, classroom-based settings compared to their peers in informal settings. The study finds that children enrolled in formal settings, such as state-funded pre-K and child care centers, receive higher quality care and enter kindergarten with better math and reading skills compared to children receiving care from a family child care home or nonparental caretaker.

In order to gain a better understanding of quality differences between early education settings a team of researchers from the University of Virginia, Stanford University, Cornell University, and the Urban Institute analyzed data using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study’s Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative study that tracked 14,000 children from infancy in 2001 to kindergarten entry. Though these data are now about 10 years old, it represents the most current, nationally representative data available on early childhood education (ECE) quality. It includes interviews with parents and child care providers about the specific characteristics of their ECE setting. The researchers supplemented these data with direct observational measures of a subsample of classrooms.