This paper uses rich, representative data from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) to examine the landscape of early education and care among three- and four-year-olds in one state. We examine the distribution of children in setting types, taking socio-demographic characteristics of children and families into account, investigate how micro-features of quality differ across early education and care setting types (i.e., formal and informal settings), and explore whether variation in micro-features of quality is associated with children’s language, literacy, math, executive functions, and social-emotional skills across the setting types. To address these aims, we employ measures of quality that capture detailed information about adult–child interactions and the nature of daily activities. Overall, we found a slight majority of three- and four-year-olds in the state were enrolled in formal settings, with fewer children enrolled in informal settings or parental care only. We observed different patterns of enrollment in formal and informal care settings based on child and family characteristics; younger children were less likely than older children to attend formal care settings, and middle-income families were less likely to use formal care relative to lower-income and higher-income families. Moderate differences in quality across setting types were observed. Children’s skills also varied across setting types. However, controlling quality features did not change these patterns, and child and family characteristics accounted for much of the variation in child skills between setting types. (author abstract)
Exploring the role of quality in a population study of early education and care
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