Washington, D.C. — Children who primarily attended day care, preschool and other types of center-based care in the year before kindergarten earned higher scores in math and reading and had stronger learning and cognitive flexibility skills than their peers who had no such early care and education arrangements, according to a new report.
The report, produced by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), drew from a nationally representative sample of U.S. kindergartners as they entered school. It found that the percentage of children who attended center-based care as their primary arrangement before kindergarten jumped slightly, from 55 percent in 1995 to 58 percent in 2012.
The report examines five categories of primary early care and education arrangements for children: (1) center-based care, including day care centers, Head Start programs, preschool, prekindergarten and other early childhood programs; (2) home-based relative care; (3) home-based nonrelative care; (4) multiple arrangements for equal amounts of time; and (5) no regular early care arrangement (i.e., mainly parental care only).
“The study provides a useful look at differences in students’ academic skills and learning behaviors as they start kindergarten,” said Amy Rathbun, an AIR principal researcher and the report’s lead author. “Students who primarily went to center-based care the year before kindergarten tended to perform better than peers cared for mainly by their parents.”
The study also revealed racial and ethnic disparities in early care arrangements. In fall 2010, the percentages of first-time kindergartners who received center-based care as their primary early care and education arrangement the year before kindergarten were lower for Hispanics (48 percent) and Pacific Islanders (28 percent) than for whites (58 percent), blacks (56 percent), Asians (62 percent), American Indians/Alaska Natives (57 percent) and kindergartners of two or more races (61 percent). About 36 percent of kindergartners from households where a primary language other than English was spoken had no regular early care and education arrangement in the year before kindergarten, compared with 18 percent of kindergartners whose primary home language was English.
The report drew largely on data from two surveys: the National Household Education Surveys Program and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11.
Major findings from the study, which examined children’s performance as they entered kindergarten in fall 2010, include the following:
- In reading, children who had no regular early care and education arrangements the year before kindergarten and those whose primary arrangements were home-based relative care or nonrelative care tended to score lower than children who were primarily in center-based care or who spent the same amount of time in multiple care arrangements.
- In mathematics, children who had no regular early care and education arrangements the year before kindergarten tended to score lower than children who attended any type of arrangement outside of parental care. Children who were primarily in home-based relative care scored lower than children who were primarily in home-based nonrelative care, center-based care or multiple care arrangements for equal amounts of time.
- Cognitive flexibility scores were lower, on average, for children who had no regular early care and education arrangements the year before kindergarten and for those whose primary arrangements were home-based relative care than for children who primarily attended center-based care. These scores measure a child’s ability to adjust behavior or attention in response to changes in the environment.
- Scores on approaches to learning—in which teachers rated students on attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility, organization and ability to follow classroom rules—tended to be lower for children who had no regular early care and education arrangements the year before kindergarten than for those who were primarily in home-based nonrelative care, center-based care or multiple care arrangements for the same amount of time.
Primary Early Care and Education Arrangements and Achievement at Kindergarten Entry is available on the NCES website.
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.