Research & Action Report Fall/Winter 2005


Defining Quality Afterschool Programming: NIOST completes three-year study

The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women recently completed work on a comprehensive, three-year study on afterschool programs in Massachusetts, in partnership with the Intercultural Center for Research in Education (INCRE). One of the first studies of this scope nationally, the Massachusetts Afterschool Research Study (MARS) stands as a primary opportunity for researchers to examine the relationships between program characteristics and indicators of program quality, and how these relate to youth development outcomes.
The United Way of Massachusetts Bay collaborated with the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services to sponsor this three-year study which was conducted by NIOST and INCRE.

MARS aimed to identify the elements of program quality, features, and participation that contribute to positive outcomes for youth, so that funders, providers, advocates, and policy-makers are better prepared to expand the quality and availability of afterschool programs. The study was conducted in 78 afterschool program sites across Massachusetts. Data for the study were collected from classroom teachers, afterschool teachers and staff, and from children and youth participating in fterschool
programs.

As a national leader in afterschool program research, consultation, training, and evaluation, NIOST has begun the process of sharing thefindings of MARS to nurture and support the afterschool program field. Findings from MARS point to several major considerations in designing and sustaining afterschool programs.

In the study, group size and staff-child ratios were highly related to program quality. Programs that were able to maintain smaller staff-child ratios and/or small group sizes for program activities were better able to deliver high quality experiences and promote higher youth engagement in activities. This finding was not related to program size or overall enrollment, however.

Staff and youth are most engaged in program environments that are perceived to be relaxed and flexible. Whatever the program goals, creating a comfortable, friendly, and welcoming environment is desirable for all involved.

The study asserts that decisions about staffing are important. Having at least some staff with strong educational backgrounds and appropriate training is key to program quality. A highly qualified program director can set the foundation for building a program that promotes staff and youth engagement, with strong general activities and homework assistance.

Findings indicate that partnerships with schools and families will support good outcomes for children and youth. Establishing sharing, supporting, sustaining, informing relationships with school principals, teachers, student support personnel,
and families can have a measurable benefit on youth outcomes.

These findings build NIOST’s understanding of how to create and maintain afterschool programs that will help youth achieve a wide range of positive outcomes. Widely disseminated by the United Way with assistance from NIOST and INCRE, the results of MARS come at an opportune time in Massachusetts policy-making. This
year, Massachusetts reorganized the Office of Child Care Services and other state offices to form the new Department of Early Education and Care. Soon after, a special Commission on After School and Out-of-School Time was established to make
recommendations on how the state can better coordinate, expand, finance, and improve quality out-of-school time programming for children. NIOST will continue to encourage and advise how the work accomplished through MARS and its comprehensive findings will shape state policies and funding related to strengthening afterschool program opportunities for Massachusetts children and youth. NIOST believes that these experiences are essential to the healthy development of children and youth, who then can become effective and capable members of society.

NIOST team members who worked on the MARS project were: Julie Dennehy, Georgia Hall, Beth Miller, and Joyce Shortt. A free download of this report is available from this website.

Early Education Workforce Central to Efforts to Expand EEC in Massachusetts

Like other states in the nation, Massachusetts is at a critical juncture in advancing its commitment to young children. Last year, the State created the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to administer Massachusetts’ early education and care system, laying the groundwork for universal access to voluntary, high-quality programs for the Commonwealth’s preschool-aged children. The new department
became active on July 1, 2005, and researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) have recommended a vital first step—an investment in workforce development.

According to findings from two Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Briefs which WCW released this past spring—Characteristics of the Current Early Education and Care Workforce and Workforce Characteristics of Centers, Family Child Care Homes and Early Head Start Programs Serving Infants and Toddlers—WCW researchers argue that the Commonwealth needs to provide support for the current
workforce to increase their education and training, and to recruit and retain new, qualified teachers and providers. These briefs provide research-based evidence of the magnitude of the task of workforce development.

The Commonwealth is committed to continuing Massachusetts’ mixed delivery system that provides access to preschool in centers, public school settings, Head Start programs and family child care homes. WCW researchers stress that workforce issues must be addressed in each setting so that programs effectively promote children’s school readiness.

Currently, the majority of Massachusetts children participating in preschool and infant-toddler programs are in centers. While many of the teachers in centers exceed the minimal requirements set by the Department of Early Education and Care—with 53 percent of teachers holding a child development associate (CDA) credential or college degree in early childhood education (ECE) or a related field—many current center teachers will need additional education or training to raise the quality of these programs. Only 13 percent of infant teachers and 17 percent of toddler teachers in centers hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 28 percent of preschool teachers in centers hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, suggesting that centers place their
better-educated teachers in the preschool classrooms, rather than with infants or toddlers.

Teachers in public school preschool classrooms are required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree and research shows teachers who have additional training in ECE provide higher quality programs. However, preschool classrooms in Massachusetts’ public schools currently serve fewer than 20 percent of preschool-aged children in programs.

Family child care providers are a significant and important sector of Massachusetts’ mixed delivery system of early education and care, serving more young children than public school preschool programs and Head Start programs. Many of these family child care homes meet accepted standards of quality programming. Yet, only 27 percent of family child care providers have a CDA or college degree; WCW research findings indicate providers without a CDA or higher formal education are less likely to provide high quality early education and care.

To recruit and maintain a qualified early education and care workforce, the reports assert that it will be necessary to address issues of compensation and turnover. Compensation currently varies by education level and by sector of Massachusetts’ mixed delivery system. Within a sector, more-qualified individuals receive higher compensation. However, a center teacher with a bachelor’s degree in the field is paid less than a comparably educated public school preschool teacher. Center teachers with a bachelor’s degree in ECE earn an average of $11.91/hour in 2002, compared to the lowest paid, full-time public school preschool teachers who earn an average of $28/hour. According to the annual State of Preschool yearbook published by the National Institute of Early Education Research, pre-kindergarten initiatives in 13 states nationally require teachers to be paid on a public school salary scale. Massachusetts is not one of them.

The low wages associated with employment in centers are directly related to staff turnover. In fact, turnover among teaching staff in Massachusetts’ centers is significantly higher than national averages for all employees working in education. Directors reported that 26 percent of their teaching staff had left in the previous year;
nationally, the annual turnover rate for 2003-2004 in education services was only 9.8 percent. Turnover is costly—the Commonwealth loses on its investment when highly trained teachers leave the field, and young children lose when they experience unstable care.

Massachusetts has carefully and appropriately set guidelines for staffing patterns that limit the number of children in classrooms and centers, as well as the ratios of children to adults in each setting. WCW researchers note that efforts to raise the
bar for teacher and provider qualifications, and to ensure adequate compensation, must not jeopardize these important standards.

The WCW research reports have been widely distributed across Massachusetts. The Boston Globe relied on the findings of the Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Brief: Characteristics of the Current Early Education and Care Workforce when
it took its position in the editorial, “Upgrading Preschool,” published on August 23, 2005. Citing the WCW researchers’ findings, the editorial defined the insights as “crucial for Massachusetts as officials build a universal system of early education
and care.”

The Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Brief: Characteristics of the Current Early Education and Care Workforce was researched and authored by Nancy Marshall, Julie Dennehy, Christine Johnson-Staub, and Wendy Wagner Robeson. Funding was provided by the National Institute of Early Education Research and Strategies for Children.

The Workforce Characteristics of Centers, Family Child Care Homes and Early Head Start Programs Serving Infants and Toddlers: A Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Brief was researched and authored by Julie Dennehy and Nancy Marshall.
Funding was provided by the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation. Free downloads of these reports and others in the Massachusetts Capacity Study series are available from this website.

A research brief that will report on the Massachusetts higher education system’s ability to meet the workforce training needs of early education and care educators was released in late fall 2005.