Rutgers Study: Keys to quality

A recent study of infant-toddler child care quality in New Jersey found two key areas affect the care of young children – a teacher’s education level and the source of funding for a child care program. Read the report.

The National Institute of Early Education (NIERR) at Rutgers University examined the quality of care of infants and toddlers at 473 centers across New Jersey and an additional 38 classrooms in East Orange, Newark, Orange and Irvington. Together, this represents nearly one-third of all licensed child care centers in the state.

On a scale of 1 to 7, with “5” indicating good quality and “7” being excellent, the average score was 4.24 for all 511 classrooms observed, the report said.

The Rutgers researchers found that child care quality is directly affected by teachers’ education level. Classrooms with teachers who had no more than a high school diploma, representing 33 percent of the sample, scored the lowest for quality. African-American teachers were the least likely to have a college degree, the study found.

In addition, the report also made a link between quality and source of funding. Early Head Start centers, which receive federal funding, scored highest in quality of care. Private centers that had not received state contracts or other direct public funding showed the lowest quality.

The report authors point to the quality of care and education now provided in state-funded preschools in 35 New Jersey districts, noting that the quality of this early care and education has improved tremendously since the state began funding and overseeing preschool in these districts roughly 14 years ago. Those same lessons, the report said, should be applied to child care for our youngest children living in towns across the state.

This includes:

  • Raising quality standards,
  • Improving teacher preparation,
  • Providing adequate funding,
  • Putting in place a continuous improvement system that would include coaching.

With the help of a federal grant, New Jersey is embarking on an effort to improve child care quality. Called Grow NJ Kids, this initiative is just getting underway in a handful of counties. The findings of this significant research should be used to inform that effort.

Key recommendations include:

  • Provide technical assistance and training, with priority given to counties with the highest percentage of low-scoring classrooms.
  • Increase funding to raise teachers’ salaries and give child care providers the resources they need to improve quality.
  • This includes analyzing state reimbursement rates and developing recommendations to increases rates to more closely reflect the real cost of providing quality child care.
  • Enact systematic statewide improvements in formal teacher education and ongoing professional development, paired with a scholarship program and other financial incentives, to ensure teachers have adequate early childhood training.

Read the report.