Can Better Child Care Shrink Some Achievement Gaps?

By Debra Viadero — September 30, 2009 1 min read
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The Early EdWatch Blog alerted me to this important study in the September/October issue of the journal Child Development. It finds that high-quality child care in infancy and the toddler years can blunt the negative effect on learning that is usually associated with growing up in poverty. In fact, the study finds, poor children raised in such settings perform nearly as well on reading and math tests taken in 3rd and 5th grades as peers from more affluent homes.

There are a couple of things to note about this study, which draws on data for a nationally representative set of more than 1,300 children.

First, the study extends earlier findings by focusing on children between the ages of 6 months and 3 to 4 years and following them into middle childhood. Most of the earlier research found learning benefits in early elementary schools for children who attended preschools between the ages of 2 and 5.

Second, it finds that children benefited from a wide range of settings and not just from formal, and sometimes expensive, programs such as the Perry Preschool Project. In this study, the achievement boost came in a variety of formal and informal settings that researchers judged, in observational visits, to be “above average,” based on caregivers’ responsiveness to children, the availability of appropriate learning materials, and the degree to which caregivers talked to children and encouraged them to learn and use language.

The researchers—Eric Dearing of Boston College, Kathleen McCartney of Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Beck A. Taylor of Samford University—theorize that high-quality child care “protects” children through elementary school from poverty’s negative learning impact by “promoting the growth of early cognitive skills on which later achievement is based.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.