New Study Links Child Care Quality With Success In Early Learning and School Readiness

Washington, DC – A major study of more than 800 preschool children begun in 1993 which has now followed the children through second grade, establishes a link between quality child care and school readiness. Approximately 74% of 3- to 5-year olds, or 6.8 million preschoolers, receive some type of child care on a regular basis.

The “Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes” study looks at the cost and quality of early child care and early learning, and how these important factors relate to children’s development and school readiness. Researchers from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, UCLA and Yale University took part in the study.

The study shows that young children receiving poor quality child care were less prepared for school and tended to have less success in the early phases of school than students who received high quality care in their preschool years.

“We followed children from their 3-year-old group in child care through the early school years. This allowed us to document the critical importance of high quality child care for children’s performance through second grade,” explained Richard Clifford, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an investigator on the study.

“In families where both parents work full-time to make ends meet, the children can spend as many waking hours in child care as they do with their parents. This study underscores the importance of high quality child care in laying the developmental foundation for every child to enter school ready to learn. I urge policymakers at all levels of government to redouble their efforts to make quality child care opportunities available to hard-working American families,” declared U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

The overall findings of the study were that:

1. High quality child care is an important element in achieving the national goal of having all children ready to learn when they come to school. The quality of preschool experiences for children in typical child care centers affects their development while they are in child care and their readiness for school. Children who attended higher quality child care centers scored higher on measures of both cognitive and social skills in child care and through the transition into school.

2. High quality child care continues to positively predict children’s performance well into their school careers. Child care quality was related to basic cognitive skills (language and math) and children’s social skills, both of which are important factors in children’s ability to take advantage of the opportunities available in school.

3. Children who have traditionally been at risk for not doing well in school are affected more by the quality of child care experiences than other children. For some outcomes (math skills and problem behaviors), children whose mothers had lower levels of education were more sensitive to the negative effects of poor quality child care or received more benefits from high quality child care. Moreover, the influences of child care quality of these typical child care settings for children at risk were sustained through second grade.

4. The quality of child care classroom practices was related to children’s cognitive development, while the nature of the preschool teacher-child relationship influenced children’s social development through the early school years.

“The longitudinal analysis of children’s performance indicated that the quality of child care experienced by these children, before they entered school, continued to affect their development at least through kindergarten and in many cases, through the end of second grade,” said Mary Culkin, a researcher from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and one of the investigators on the study.

“One aspect of child care quality that is related to children’s success as they move into school is classroom practice - the materials, activities, and daily experiences provided in child care. These kinds of high quality practices provide a foundation for children’s language and math skills which carry over into learning during the early elementary years,” said Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, a researcher at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and another investigator on the project.

Carollee Howes at the University of California at Los Angeles added, “In terms of teacher-child relationships, I think what happens is children who have good relationships with child care teachers leave child care expecting to have positive relationships with their school teachers.”

The study concludes with a number of recommendations for child care policymakers at both the national and state levels:

A. Recent attempts by states to provide preschool care and education experiences for children to help prepare them for success in school are well founded and should be greatly expanded. The results of the study support policies focusing on early childhood care and education as a means of improving children’s chances of coming to school ready to learn. Much greater levels of investment in early childhood care and education programs are needed to provide high quality services to all children who need them, including efforts on the part of both government and the private sector.

B. Child care policies at both the federal and state levels should be revised to encourage higher quality programs. Our current policies do not encourage higher quality services. For example, child care subsidy approaches which encourage the use of lower quality informal and unregulated care are harmful to the children at most risk. Subsidy systems closely tied to open market rates often penalize low-income communities by restricting the resources for providing higher quality care and education. This research indicated that policies should be devised to provide incentives for programs to raise the quality of services, especially for children whose mothers are likely to have lower levels of education. Below are listed several mechanisms that have been used in some areas to work toward higher quality care.

* Child care subsidy systems can be redesigned to provide incentives for providing high quality care.

* The quality set aside in the federal Child Care Block Grant is a good investment and should be extended.

* Tax incentives should encourage use of higher quality care and education.

* Training of teachers who work in early care and education settings must be improved.

“There is one clear and compelling implication from this study: America must find a way to provide high quality child care for all children needing care prior to school entry. There are a variety of ways of accomplishing this goal, but the goal should be clear,” said Sharon Lynn Kagan, a Yale University researcher and investigator on the project.

A complete, embargoed copy of the Executive Summary of the report can be accessed via the Internet at on Friday, June 4th.

This research project was funded by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William T. Grant Foundation, the JFM Foundation, the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the USWEST Foundation, one anonymous foundation, and the Educational Research and Development Centers Programs as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, PR/Award Number R307A60004, U.S. Department of Education. Contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the National Institute of Early Childhood Development and Education, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the U.S. Department of Education, or any other sponsoring organization.

Child Care Experts in Connecticut:

Beth Bye 860/232-4571
Director, School for Young Children
St. Joseph College, West Hartford

Judy Goldfarb 860/233-8885
Executive Director, Hartford Area
Child Care Collaborative

Emily Firlik 203/967-6960
Director, Stamford School Readiness Program
President, Connecticut Association for the Education of Young Children

Carla Horwitz 203/764-9350
Director, Calvin Hill Day Care Center at Yale University

Laura Lee Simon 203/227-1448
Chairperson, School Readiness Task Force

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Tom Conroy:, 203-432-1345