Report Highlights Traits of 10 Top Early-Childhood Programs

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Affordable child care is often not the best child care.

To keep rates low, early-childhood programs often hire caregivers with little training who earn just above the minimum wage.

Programs that offer high-quality care and well-trained teachers usually charge parents above-average fees.

But some programs have been able to strike a balance between holding down costs to families and offering attractive pay and benefit packages to their employees, says a report scheduled for release this week by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation.

The Ypsilanti, Mich., foundation worked with the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children to identify 10 exemplary programs. They received applications or nominations from 104 programs and visited 23.

Those that were recognized as exemplary "were judged to have higher-than-average quality, compensation, and affordability," the report says. Criteria included staff-to-child ratios, salaries, staff-development opportunities, and fees charged to parents.

The chosen programs represent a range of child-care services and include nonprofit and for-profit programs, as well as a family child-care home, and a statewide child-care initiative.

Two programs that don't charge any parent fees--a Head Start agency and a public school prekindergarten--were also recognized in an effort to present diverse examples "that would be helpful to the field," said Amy Fowler Kinch, a senior research assistant at High/Scope.

Employees, Parents Benefit

Employees in child-care centers earn an average of $7.80 an hour, and family child-care providers make $3.37 an hour. But starting salaries range from $7.80 to $13.25 in High/Scope's chosen programs. And while just 27 percent of programs nationwide provide their workers with fully paid health insurance, most of the programs highlighted in the report offer that benefit.

The report, which appears in the November issue of the NAEYC's Young Children magazine, notes that it's common for child-care centers to recruit caregivers by offering discounted fees for their own children as an incentive. But the programs identified in the report instead emphasize health, vacation, and retirement benefits in order to attract employees who want to make early-childhood education a career.

The programs in the study have a turnover rate of 13.5 percent. Turnover among "high quality" centers nationwide averages 31 percent, according to a report released this year by the Washington-based Center for the Child Care Workforce. The rate could be as high as 50 percent in other programs, said Marcy Whitebook, a co-director of the CCCW.

This week, the center is releasing "Taking on Turnover," a handbook focusing on ways to address turnover, both in an individual center and through advocacy.

Other Sources of Income

A 1995 study of 401 child-care centers found that parent fees made up 71 percent of a typical center's total revenue. But parents who use the programs featured in the High/Scope-NAEYC report pay only 56 percent of the total income because the providers have been able to tap into other resources, such as in-kind donations, grants, and volunteer work.

For example, the church that is home to the Sycamore Tree Preschool in Bremerton, Wash., provides a building and utilities.

Other traits common to the 10 exemplary centers include an emphasis on professionalism and the help of outside advisers and support, such as a board of directors that can concentrate on fund raising.

All of the programs offer paid leave for employees to attend staff-development activities, and some directors tie pay raises to additional education.

Involving parents in their children's education and responding to family needs--such as offering extended hours or sliding-fee scales--were also crucial aspects of the programs.

Vol. 18, Issue 11, Page 5

Published in Print: November 11, 1998, as Report Highlights Traits of 10 Top Early-Childhood Programs
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