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Executive Summary

Young children experience various types of early care and education environments the year before they enter kindergarten. Some children attend center-based arrangements such as preschools, childcare centers, or Head Start programs, while others are cared for in relatives' or nonrelatives' homes or are normally cared for only by their parents (Denton and Germino Hausken 2000; Snyder and Dillow 2016). Prior research indicates that children's participation rates in specific types of primary care arrangements and their knowledge and skills at kindergarten entry differ in relation to certain characteristics of children and their families, including age at kindergarten entry, race/ethnicity, primary home language, and mother's educational attainment (Denton and Germino Hausken 2000; Mulligan, Hastedt, and McCarroll 2012). Earlier research also finds evidence of positive associations between participation in early care and education (ECE) arrangements and academic skills around the time that children begin kindergarten (Bradley and Vandell 2007; Denton Flanagan and McPhee 2009; Magnuson et al. 2004; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network 2002).

This Statistical Analysis Report builds upon prior work by using the most recently available data to explore relationships between children's primary care and education arrangements the year before kindergarten and their academic skills and learning behaviors at kindergarten entry, after accounting for child and family background characteristics. In the report, ECE arrangements are classified into five groups: (1) center-based care (including day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, prekindergartens, and other early childhood programs), (2) home-based relative care, (3) home-based nonrelative care, (4) multiple arrangements (i.e., children who spent an equal amount of time in each of two or more types of arrangements), and (5) no ECE arrangement on a regular basis (i.e., children who had no regularly scheduled care arrangement and mainly received care only from their parents). Information for this report comes from the nationally representative National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) data collections.

Data from the NHES cross-sectional sample survey are used to describe trends in participation in ECE arrangements that children experience prior to kindergarten entry. The NHES Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) surveys gather information on children's participation in ECE programs and the characteristics of these arrangements. Parents reported information on their child's participation in different types of ECE arrangements in 1995, 2001, 2005, and 2012. This report compares estimates of 4- and 5-year-old children's primary ECE arrangements prior to kindergarten entry in 1995 and 2012. Estimates are presented overall and by children's race/ethnicity, their family's poverty status, and their mother's educational attainment.

Data from the ECLS-K:2011 longitudinal sample survey are used to explore relationships between primary ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten and academic skills and learning behaviors at kindergarten entry. The ECLS-K:2011 collects detailed information on the school achievement and experiences of students from the 2010–11 kindergarten school year through the spring of 2016, when most of them are expected to be in fifth grade. In the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011, parents reported information on child and family characteristics and their child's participation in ECE settings the year before kindergarten; children were assessed in reading, mathematics, and cognitive flexibility; and kindergarten teachers reported on children's approaches to learning. The report describes the distribution of primary ECE arrangements that first-time kindergartners attended in the year before entering kindergarten in the fall of 2010, including differences in primary ECE arrangements by characteristics of children and their families. The report also describes differences in first-time kindergartners' academic knowledge, skills, and learning behaviors at kindergarten entry relative to their primary ECE arrangement, after accounting for children's sex, age at kindergarten entry, race/ethnicity, family type, primary home language, and socioeconomic status (SES).

All comparisons of estimates were tested for statistical significance using Student's t test and ordinary least squares (OLS) regression, and all differences cited are statistically significant at the p < .05 level. No adjustments were made for multiple comparisons.

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Did participation in different types of primary ECE arrangements for children ages 4 and 5 years old who were not yet enrolled in kindergarten in 2012 change compared with 1995?

Tables/Figures Figure A. Percentage distribution of children ages 4 and 5 years old who were not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by primary early care and education (ECE) arrangement: Selected years, 1995 through 2012

Based on information from the NHES, the overall percentage of children ages 4 and 5 years old who attended center-based care as their primary ECE arrangement before kindergarten entry was higher in 2012 than in 1995 (58 vs. 55 percent), while the percentage of children who primarily received home-based nonrelative care as their primary ECE arrangement was lower in 2012 than in 1995 (7 vs. 11 percent, figure A and table A-1). The overall percentages of children receiving home-based relative care as their primary ECE arrangement (13 percent) and those with no ECE arrangement on a regular basis (19 percent) in 2012 were not measurably different from the percentages in 1995.

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Did participation in different types of primary ECE arrangements for fall 2010 first-time kindergartners in the year before entering kindergarten vary by child and family characteristics?

Tables/Figures Figure B. Percentage distribution of first-time kindergartners, by primary type of early care and education (ECE) arrangement prior to kindergarten entry and child's race/ethnicity: Fall 2010

Based on information from the ECLS-K:2011, the percentages of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners with various primary ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten differed by race/ethnicity, SES, family type, and primary home language (figures B and 4, and table A-2). For instance, the percentages of first-time kindergartners who received center-based care as their primary ECE 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). In addition, about 36 percent of kindergartners from households that spoke a language other than English as their primary language had no ECE arrangement on a regular basis the year before kindergarten, compared with 18 percent of kindergartners whose primary home language was English.

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Were differences in first-time kindergartners' academic skills and learning behaviors in the fall of kindergarten related to their primary ECE arrangement the year before kindergarten, after accounting for characteristics of kindergartners and their families?

Using information from the ECLS-K:2011, academic skills and learning behavior scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners at kindergarten entry were compared with respect to students' primary ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten. In general, after accounting for characteristics of kindergartners and their families, academic skill and learning behavior scores were lower for those who did not attend any ECE arrangement on a regular basis and for those who primarily attended home-based relative care than for those who primarily attended center-based care and those who attended multiple ECE arrangements for equal amounts of time.

Tables/Figures Figure C. Adjusted fall kindergarten reading score difference, by primary early care and education (ECE) arrangement prior to kindergarten entry: Fall 2010

After accounting for children's sex, age at kindergarten entry, race/ethnicity, family type, primary home language, and SES, the following findings were observed:

  • Fall kindergarten reading scores were lower, on average, for children who had no regular ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten and for those whose primary ECE arrangements were home-based relative care or nonrelative care than for children whose primary ECE arrangements were center-based care or multiple care arrangements for equal amounts of time (figure C, tables 1, A-4, and A-5).

  • Fall kindergarten mathematics scores were lower, on average, for children who had no regular ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten than for children who attended any type of ECE arrangement (figure 6, table 1). In addition, children who were primarily in home-based relative care also scored lower in mathematics than children who were primarily in home-based nonrelative care, center-based care, or multiple care arrangements for equal amounts of time (table A-4).

  • Fall kindergarten cognitive flexibility scores were lower, on average, for children who had no regular ECE 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 (figure 7, tables 1 and A-4). In addition, children who had no regular ECE arrangements also scored lower in cognitive flexibility than children who were primarily in multiple care arrangements for equal amounts of time. To measure cognitive flexibility, a component of executive functioning, children were administered the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS), in which they were asked to sort a series of cards into one of two trays according to different rules (e.g., by color, by shape).

  • Fall kindergarten approaches to learning ratings were lower, on average, for children who had no regular ECE arrangements the year before kindergarten than for those who were primarily in home-based nonrelative care, center-based care, or multiple care arrangements for equal amounts of time (figure 8, table 1). For the approaches to learning measure, teachers reported on how students rated in seven areas: attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility, organization, and ability to follow classroom rules, with higher scores indicating that a child exhibits positive learning behaviors more often.

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