New Study of Cost and Quality of Early Child Care Centers in Massachusetts Reveals Extensive Disparities
January 17, 2002
Wellesley, MA – A new study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education released today found that the cost and quality of preschool care and education vary widely in the state, and that centers serving children from predominantly low and moderate income families are less likely to receive the level of quality early care and education that will provide a firm foundation for school and later in life.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women's Center for Research on Women (CRW) and Abt Associates Inc., evaluated the cost and quality of early care and education for preschool-aged children (2.9 years to 5 years) in full-day, year-round centers in Massachusetts.
The gaps in quality are greatest in the areas of cognitive and language stimulation and social interactions among children and staff - precisely those behaviors shown to be linked to better child outcomes in studies.
Senior Research Scientist Nancy Marshall, WCW's Co-Director of the study, said, "While Massachusetts has a well-deserved reputation for some of the highest quality preschool care and education in the country, not all children receive high quality care. We need to raise the standard of care so that all children enter school ready to learn."
"I take pride in the overall finding of this study, that full time early care and education for preschool children in Massachusetts is comparable to and better than care in other states," said Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll. "Though this report does point to some areas that still need our attention, the study underscores the positive strides we have made toward quality and the excellent work provided each day by our administrators and teachers."
The study found that centers serving different income groups also varied considerably in the education levels of teachers and the extent to which they used teachers rather than assistants in the classrooms. Only 10% of classroom staff at centers serving predominantly low-income families had a two-year college degree or more, compared with 28% of staff at centers serving low to moderate-income families and 61% of classroom staff at centers serving moderate-to-high income families. While qualified teachers' are clearly an important part of quality early care and education, center directors reported that it was difficult to hire and retain them.
"It is estimated that there are 167,000 children in early education and care programs in Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts annually invests over $500 million in early childhood education. Understanding the cost and quality of services in these programs is imperative to the children's welfare and for planning effective state investments," said Cindy Creps, Abt Associates Project Manager and Co-Director of the study.
The overall findings from the study:
- Full-time early care and education for preschoolers in Massachusetts is comparable to, or better than, similar preschool care in other states.
- However, 65% of the classrooms did not meet the Good benchmark for language and cognitive stimulation.
- Centers providing higher quality preschool care and education have fewer children per teaching staff in the classroom and better educated teachers, and they make greater use of teachers rather than assistants for staffing.
- Centers serving predominantly low and moderate-income families are less likely to provide high quality preschool care and education. Only a quarter of classrooms serving low-to-moderate income families met the Good benchmark for language and cognitive stimulation, and fewer than two-thirds of classrooms met the Good benchmark for social interactions.
- Labor is the single largest component of childcare center costs, and labor costs are strongly associated with the observed quality of early care and education.
- Higher quality early care and education costs significantly more than lower quality care and education.
"As we look to reauthorize the child care block grant, it is imperative that we closely examine the factors that drive a quality preschool experience for our children. This report helps us to identify the problem areas and to continue to raise the standards in early childcare programs in Massachusetts. Together, we will work to ensure that every childcare center around the state and across the country has the tools needed to offer quality early child care and education," stated Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
"Every child in the Commonwealth deserves the opportunity to succeed," said Governor Jane Swift. "Access to early childhood education has been proven to help our children succeed inside and outside the classroom. This report allows us to better understand the necessary components for a quality preschool experience and my Administration remains committed to ensuring that each child in Massachusetts has the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to achieve their dreams."
The report is based on data from 90 preschool classrooms, located around the state, randomly selected from the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services' licensing lists. Trained observers observed each classroom and trained interviewers interviewed center directors in order to gather the data for this study.
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.