This study examines the effects of participation in various prekindergarten care arrangements on early elementary school readiness, particularly among poor and this study examines the effects of participation in various prekindergarten care arrangements on early elementary school readiness, particularly among poor and minority populations. Current research indicates that children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are entering kindergarten less prepared to succeed, both academically and socially, than their wealthier, white peers. To reduce this achievement gap, child advocates and policy makers have increasingly turned to early education and care programs, such as Head Start and public prekindergarten centers. Evidence remains limited, however, as to the specific cognitive and socioemotional effects of various prekindergarten care arrangements on these populations. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K), I explore the differences in socioemotional and cognitive development of children who attended a Head Start, center-based, or informal preschool program in the year prior to kindergarten, as compared to children who received only parental or family care during that same period. The effects of participation are also examined specific to different racial, ethnic, and socio-economic demographic groups.
Compared to children cared for by parents or relatives, findings indicate that center based care in the year prior to kindergarten entry has a statistically significant association with positive cognitive development, but does not appear to affect socioemotional development. Head Start programs within African American and Hispanic communities are associated with increases in math and reading scores, respectively, from kindergarten through third grade, but produce statistically significant negative results for the overall population. Informal and multiple arrangement care are associated with positive academic gains, although at a lesser magnitude than center care. Finally, holding all else equal, nanny care is associated with the largest statistically significant academic gains, when comparing children in all care arrangements to those receiving only parental or relative care; this may be due in large part, however, to missing variable bias associated specifically with the characteristics of nanny care provision. With the exception of Head Start programs, no care arrangement had overall significant effects on socioemotional development.
Despite some areas of ineffectiveness, the positive cognitive outcomes associated with overall center care and Head Start programs for African American and Hispanic children indicate that some programs are indeed providing a valuable service to young children and their families; the challenge to policymakers, therefore, becomes identifying which factors within successful programs represent the driving force behind positive interventions. The limits of this study illustrate the critical need for nationally-recognized standards of early childhood education and care, as well as increased support for data collection and research that support quantitative reviews of childcare to include a quality index.