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Quality thresholds, features, and dosage in early care and education: Introduction and literature review

This monograph addresses the hypotheses that preschool children benefit most strongly when early care and education (ECE) is at or above a threshold of quality, has specific quality features, and/or is of longer duration. These issues are pivotal in recent policies designed to improve the quality of ECE, especially for children from low-income families. Evidence of quality thresholds in which ECE quality has stronger impacts in settings with moderate to high levels of quality than in settings with low quality would inform policy initiatives in which monetary incentives or consequences are allocated to ECE settings based on their level of quality. Evidence that specific features of quality, such as quality of teacher-child interactions and of literacy and mathematics instruction, are predictors of gains in child outcomes could help inform quality improvement efforts. Evidence that more time spent in center-based ECE or in instruction in specific content areas predict larger gains among preschoolers could be useful in designing public preschool programs such as Head Start or prekindergarten. Secondary data analyses of eight large studies of preschool children in center-based ECE were conducted. Analyses focused on quality thresholds and quality features examined the extent to which three types of quality measures predicted gains in children's language, literacy, mathematics, and social skills. The measures comprised (1) global quality measures that provide an overall or global rating of quality, focusing on interactions as well as on physical features of the environment, activities, and routines; (2) interaction-specific measures that focus in depth on the quality of interactions between teachers and children with respect to instructional and emotional support; and (3) domain-specific measures that focus on the quality of instruction and stimulation in specific content areas such as early language and literacy. The goal was to provide replicated analyses with data from several projects in order to address each question. Multilevel analyses that controlled for entry skills were conducted, and results were combined by using meta-analysis, nonlinear and nonparametric analyses, and propensity score analyses. (author abstract)
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