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Quality of Early Child Care Plays Role in Later Reading, Math Achievement

New findings coauthored by Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Kathleen McCartney, published today in the September/October 2009 issue of Child Development, reveals the quality of early childcare may play a role in boosting reading and math achievement among low-income youth. The study, conducted by McCartney, Boston College Associate Professor Eric Dearing, and Samford University Professor Beck Taylor, looked at reading and math achievement of more than 1,300 children in middle childhood from economic backgrounds ranging from poor to affluent.

"We found that the effect of quality child care on fifth grade reading and math achievement varies by family income. Specifically, the effect of quality child care is larger for children from low-income families," McCartney said. "Thus, quality early care levels the academic playing field for children in poverty. These findings have important implications for antipoverty policy."

Using information from the longitudinal Study of Early Care and Youth Development, which was carried out under the auspices of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, they discovered that children who spent more time in high-quality (that is, above-average) child care in the first five years of their lives had better reading and math scores. This was especially true for low-income children; in fact, their scores were similar to those of affluent children, even after taking into account a variety of family factors, including parents' education and intelligence.

"In large part, our results can be explained by the fact that low-income children who attended higher-quality child care developed reading and math skills in early childhood that likely prepared them for later achievement in middle childhood," said  Dearing, associate professor of applied developmental psychology at Boston College and the study's lead author. "These results give added credence to the central role that higher-quality child care should play in future discussions on antipoverty policy."

As a developmental psychologist, McCartney's research focuses on theoretical questions on early experience as well as policy questions on child care, early childhood education, and poverty. McCartney has held many prominent positions including principal investigator on the National Institute of Child Heath and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care & Youth Development, director of the University of New Hampshire Child Study & Development Center, and Fellow by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, and the American Educational Research Association.

Related article: High-quality Early Childcare = Later Academic Success?


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