Massachusetts Early Care and Education


New Study of Massachusetts Public School Preschools Released Today

April 16, 2003

Wellesley, MA – A new study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education released today found that the majority of Massachusetts’ publicly-administered preschool classrooms provide early care and education that meets or exceeds national quality standards.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Center for Research on Women (CRW) at the Wellesley Centers for Women and Abt Associates Inc., evaluated the quality of early care and education for preschool-aged children provided by public schools in Massachusetts.

The highest levels of language and reasoning stimulation were found in classrooms where teachers had additional training in early childhood education, beyond their formal education, such as the training provided by local Community Partnerships for Children programs.

Senior Research Scientist Nancy Marshall, CRW’s Co-Director of the study, said, “Massachusetts public preschools fill an important niche in the provision of early care and education – providing part-day, high quality early care and education to all children who attend public preschools, in an inclusive setting.”

“The research on brain development, along with the research on early care and education programs, clearly tells us that quality early experiences have a positive impact on the development of a young child,” said Cindy Creps, Abt Associates Project Director and Co-Director of the study.

The overall findings from the study:

  • The majority of Massachusetts’ public school preschool classrooms provide early care and education that meets or exceeds national standards for good quality.
  • The level of quality of public school preschool programs serving lower income children was comparable to that of public school preschool programs serving moderate or higher income children in Massachusetts.
  • Three-quarters of the classrooms in the study met or exceeded the Good benchmark on language and reasoning stimulation, and 87% met or exceeded the Good benchmark on social interactions. This high level of stimulation and social interactions reflects, in part, the standards for teacher education in Massachusetts – every public school preschool teacher must have a 4-year degree, and 67% of the teachers in this sample had a master’s degree.
  • Additional teacher training in early childhood education beyond the required 4-year degree, such as the training provided by the Department of Education’s Community Partnerships for Children program, is related to higher levels of language-reasoning stimulation provided to children in a given classroom.
  • Teacher education and training are not enough to increase the levels of engagement, warmth and sensitivity. When teachers are responsible for fewer children, they are more likely to be able to spend time with an individual child and to be warm and sensitive to children’s needs.
  • Classrooms that were NAEYC-accredited scored higher on both stimulation and on warmth and sensitivity.
  • One of the strengths of Massachusetts public school preschools is the fact that they use an inclusive model, serving both children with special needs and children without special needs in the same classroom. We found that the quality of early care and education did not vary with the number of hours of special education services provided or with the children’s diagnoses.
  • On average, preschool sessions operated for 14.32 hours per week; most sessions were half-day. Only 12% of all the sessions in the sampled schools were full-day (at least five hours a day).
  • Each classroom had one primary teacher, with one or more instructional aides. In addition, 90% of the classrooms were inclusive and these classrooms also had one or more specialists working with the classroom children for a combined average of 6.68 hours per week.

The report is based on data from 95 preschool classrooms, located around the state, randomly selected from a list of all schools housing preschool classrooms, as reported to the Department of Education by school districts. Preschool programs that were administered by private organizations and licensed by the Office of Child Care Services, although located in school buildings, were not included in the sample frame. The majority of the selected schools (92%) agreed to participate and were able to schedule observation visits before the end of the school year. Trained research assistants observed each classroom and interviewed program staff in order to gather the data for this study. A copy of the report is available here.

Massachusetts has a comprehensive system of early care and education that provides preschool programs for over 165,000 children. This ECE system includes non-profit and for-profit child care centers and nursery schools offering preschool programs, as well as preschool classrooms administered by public school systems. An estimated 27,600 children in Massachusetts attend preschool in public schools, about 18% of all children attending preschool programs in the state. During the 2002 fiscal year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts invested over $656 million in early care and education in these various settings (and parents contributed even more). An earlier report by the research team addressed the quality and cost of preschool care and education in center-based programs that are not affiliated with public schools. That report was released in January 2001; an executive summary is available here.

Since 1974, the Center for Research on Women has worked to shape a better world. Groundbreaking, interdisciplinary studies on childcare, women and employment, gender equity in education, gender, race/ethnicity and adolescent development, and violence prevention have influenced public policy for over 25 years. Center researchers work locally, nationally, and internationally on projects with direct relevance to the lives of women, men and children. The Center for Research on Women is a part of the Wellesley Centers for Women of Wellesley College. Online at http://www.wcwonline.org.

Abt Associates is a private, employee-owned company that applies rigorous research and consulting techniques, as well as technical assistance expertise, to a wide range of issues in social and economic policy, international development, business research and consulting, and clinical trials and registries. It has been a leader in studies of early childhood education and care for over 30 years, conducting projects both locally and nationally. Since its founding in 1965, Abt Associates has provided services to U.S. federal, state and local governments; foreign governments; international organizations; foundations; and business and industry. Its staff of over 1,000 employees is located in offices in Cambridge, Lexington, and Amherst, Massachusetts; and offices in Bethesda, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Old Greenwich, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; Cairo, Egypt; and Pretoria, South Africa. For more information on Abt Associates, please visit our Web site at http://www.abtassociates.com