Early care and education can prepare children for school, but while some preschool and child care programs do an excellent job, others are inadequate and some may even harm healthy development. This study focuses on child care center directors to better understand why there is so much variation, and how public initiatives can better help poor-quality programs improve. Using data from in-depth interviews and classroom observations, the research considers how various factors—including director and program characteristics, market forces, and federal state and local policies—are associated with each other, director decision making, and program quality.
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Children's earliest experiences can have substantial and long-lasting effects on
their development. Early care and education can prepare children for school, but
while some preschool and child care programs do an excellent job, others are inadequate
and some may even harm healthy development. Why is there so much variation, and
how can public initiatives help poor-quality programs improve?
While research has told us a lot about key dimensions of quality—for example the
role of stable, well-trained staff—and has delineated major barriers to achieving it, we
know little about what influences the variation in quality of services, even among programs
that face similar challenges. Why can one program provide high-quality services
while another, facing similar constraints, cannot? And how can a low-achieving program
start on a path toward high performance? Answering these questions could help us
make even more effective use of the billions of dollars the United States spends every
year to help parents access early care and education services.
This study begins to address that gap by focusing on child care center directors and
analyzing how their decisions and perspectives, and the context within which they
work, affect the quality of their programs. Through that work, we considered each program's
financial stability, staffing, and reliance on outside standards and licensing requirements.
Ultimately, our goal is to identify what supports quality in some centers,
what blocks progress in others, and how public policy can do more to ensure that all
children get off to a good start.
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