The trouble with day care

Full-time, “commercialized” child care can harm some children, write Carrie Lukas and Steven E. Rhoads in National Affairs. It’s a mistake to subsidize child-care centers, instead of helping parents choose a full range of options, they argue.

Psychologists, journalists, policy makers minimize the risks and laud the benefits of day care, write Lukas, a mother of five who uses part-time care, and Rhoads. They don’t want to hear any bad news.

Quebec began offering nearly-free child care in 1997. Child outcomes have worsened.

Quebec began offering nearly-free child care in 1997. Child outcomes have worsened.

Researchers stress that the negative effectives on children’s behavior are balanced by cognitive gains.

A study published in 2010 concluded that “the overall effect of 1st-year maternal employment on child development is neutral.” Mothers should feel no qualms about returning to work in their child’s first year, one child-development expert told the Washington Post.

But the study showed negative effects for children whose mothers returned to work earlier in the first year and for those in full-time care, write Lukas and Rhoads.

Results matched a 2002 study by Jay Belsky, which concluded that “early” and “extensive” non-maternal care posed “developmental risks for young children.”

Belsky’s follow-up study, “virtually ignored” by the media, he complains, showed that positive and negative child-care effects persisted at age 15. More “time in child care through the first 54 months of life, irrespective of quality or type of care, (predicted) more risk taking behavior and impulsivity.”

Children who started day care in Quebec at young ages are more likely to be aggressive and anxious as teens.

Children who started day care in Quebec at young ages are more likely to be aggressive and anxious as teens.

Quebec began offering heavily subsidized universal child care in 1997, write Lukas and Rhoads. Parents paid only $5 a day.

A serious of studies have found significantly worse outcomes for children linked to how young they were when they started child care and hours in care.

A 2014 studied found children who started child care at younger ages “experience significantly larger negative impacts on motor-social developmental scores, self-reported health status and behavioral outcomes including physical aggression and emotional anxiety.”

A 2015 follow-up study found  “little impact on cognitive test scores” in the long term, but persistent problems with anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity as children got older. Teens who’d spent more time in subsidized child car were more likely to commit crimes.

One group benefited from care: Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds who started child care at age three.

NPR reports on what good preschool looks like in four states.

Care for kids or flip a burger?

New York state will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast-food workers at chains with 30+ restaurants. That means the state’s burger flippers will earn more than child-care workers and preschool teachers in most parts of the country, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Child care workers average $8.63 in West Virginia to $12.47 in Massachusetts, according to a 2014 Berkeley study. Wages have fallen slightly since 1989.

“Preschool workers, who are more likely to work with older children in licensed centers and in publicly funded, school-based programs, earn more — from $11.57 an hour in Delaware to $20.99 in New York City, writes Kamenetz.

“We desperately need educated young people to be working with young children, but they look at this job and say, ‘It’s a pathway to poverty. I can’t pay my student loans if I do this’, ” says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown professor who’s studied the issue. When wages are low, turnover is high, affecting the quality of care.

If the New York law stands, restaurant owners will be able to replace low-skilled workers with automated order taking and cooking. It’s a lot harder to automate child care.

Instead of universal preschool …

Federal early childhood programs are “incoherent” and “largely ineffective,” Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

 The federal government spends heavily on Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants and other early childhood programs, writes Whitehurst. Head Start produces no lasting gains. CCDBG may harm children, because some end up in low-quality centers, though it helps single parents work or train for jobs.

There’s no evidence state programs do any better, he adds. Researchers compared children in Tennessee’s high-quality Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK) with a control group. At the end of first grade, children who’d had a year of pre-kindergarten performed less well on cognitive tasks and social/emotional skills than the controls.

The long-term benefits of the Perry and Abcedarian pilots 40 years ago can’t be generalized, Whitehurst argues.

The most vulnerable children and their parents need help that starts earlier than preschool, he writes.

 The CCDBG program should be reformed so that the funding stream is part of a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents and so that it provides parents with useful information about their choices of childcare.

Head Start should be sunset, with the funds redirected to the same purpose as the CCDBG program – a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents.

Whitehurst proposes a federal Early Learning Family (ELF) grant modeled on the Pell Grant.  ELF grants would go to parents as a means-tested voucher that could be used at any state-licensed childcare provider.  “ELF grants would replace most present forms of federal financial aid for early learning and childcare, including Head Start and CCDBG, and would place families in the driver’s seat instead of federal and state bureaucracies.”

Whitehurst questions New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plans for universal pre-K in a New York Daily News op-ed.

Raising America

A new PBS documentary series, The Raising of America will make the case for universal preschool and tax-funded day care for infants and toddlers, reports EdSource Today, which interviews co-producers Larry Adelman and Rachel Poulain.

Arts grads are in demand — as nannies

Affluent parents are hiring college graduates as nannies, writes Katy Waldman on Slate.

Fine arts diplomas are especially in-demand, because of the “level of creativity” they bring to childcare. (Whilst other nannies are gluing noodles onto construction paper, presumably, MFA grads can teach your kids how to make the latest Frank Gehry building out of play dough.) Parents also swoon for guardians who can scold their children in several languages, especially Mandarin Chinese.

The ultimate nanny has a master’s degree.

Four-day school week raises achievement

When rural schools move to a four-day week, test scores go up, along with student and teacher attendance, reports a study by Georgia State and Montana State researchers. And schools save money on transportation and utility bills, notes Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

The study looked at fourth-grade scores in Colorado, where more than a third of districts — typically small, poor and rural — have moved to a longer day and a shorter week.

Overall, districts with a four-day week started out with lower average scores than schools on traditional schedules, but saw a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on both reading and math tests after they switched to the four-day week. Specifically, the researchers found that the shortened week was associated with a 7 percentage point gain in math scores and a 3 percentage point gain in reading. In reading, the improvement took place the year after the schedule was switched; in math, the improvement took place during the year the schedule was switched. In both cases, the improvements seem to have stuck for multiple years after the shift.

The report suggests a number of potential explanations, including improved attendance, increased teacher job satisfaction, and better teaching methods. (The longer school day might allow for longer lessons, for instance.)

A four-day week creates child-care problems for parents, the researchers warned. It could give unsupervised children more time to get into trouble. Or it could make it easier for teens to hold part-time jobs, possibly decreasing the dropout rate.

Of course, what’s true in rural areas with long bus rides to school may not apply to urban and suburban schools.

Unemployed teachers find work as nannies

Parents are paying $15 to $20 an hour for nannies with teaching degrees, reports the Chicago Tribune.  Some of the new nannies were laid off after years in the classroom. Others are new graduates who’ve discovered schools aren’t hiring.

After more than 30 years as a special-education teacher in the Chicago area, Olivia Romine was laid off in June.

After unsuccessfully applying for teaching positions at school districts in the fall, Romine, 55, recently posted a profile on child-care job sites, including and She holds a master’s degree in administrative education.

“I’m not going to get a public school job because I’m too old and I’m too expensive,” she said. “I went into teaching to help kids, so either way — if I’m a nanny, tutor, baby sitter, au pair, whatever — I still feel like I’m helping the kids.”

Only one third to one quarter of  Illinois State University education graduates finds a teaching job these days. The rest are encouraged to apply for related jobs, such as day-care provider, and hope for better times.

Sarah Simanskey opened a home day-care center while finishing her master’s degree in education at DePaul University.

Pregnant as she searched for jobs after graduation, Simanskey quickly realized that if she went back to work, she would pay more for her child’s day care than she would earn as a teacher, she said.

She charges $320 to $350 a week for children who attend full time; $85 to $90 a day for part time.

. . . “I’m just teaching in a different way,” she said.

Even in hard times, two-paycheck parents are willing to spend a great deal of money for child care. After all, even mediocre care is expensive.

Preschoolers average 4 hours of TV daily

Preschoolers watch TV for four hours a day, on average, reports a new study, “Preschoolers’ Total Daily Screen Time at Home and by Type of Child Care,” published in Pediatrics.

Children in home-based child care average 5.6 hours a day; the average for parent-only care is 4.4 hours.  Children in day-care centers spend less time watching TV.  The study reported a significant decline in TV hours for low-income children in Head Start.

Overall, black children watch considerably more TV; educated parents’ children watch considerably less.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents allow “no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day” for preschoolers.

England bans babysitting by friends

You thought No joy in Middleville was crazy:  A Michigan woman was told not to watch neighbors’ kids waiting for the bus without a license. Nobody can match the English for meddling bureaucrats:   Two job-sharing policewomen have been threatened with prosecution as illegal childminders because they trade babysitting for their two-year-old daughters, who are best friends.

But the mothers, both 32, have now been told by Ofsted that surveillance teams will spy on their homes to make sure they are not continuing to care for each other’s daughter.

For the past two-and-a-half years, one looked after both of the girls while the other worked a ten-hour shift. Both worked two days a week.

A neighbor’s complaint triggered the inspection.

The nanny state exempts only family members from the ban on babysitting for more than two hours a day. Both mothers have placed their daughters in child-care centers.  One mother, separated from her husband, has applied for government benefits to pay the cost.

Quality child care boosts math, reading

Poor children in higher-quality child care programs do better in math and reading through fourth grade compared to similar children in lower-quality programs or in maternal care, concludes a new study published in the September/October 2009 issue of Child Development. Quality care didn’t erase the effects of family poverty, but it helped, reports Early Ed Watch.

According to Boston College researcher Eric Dearing, “the more time these children spent in above-average child care providers, the further the association between familial income and school performance weakened.”

Trained observers evaluated how “child-care settings were organized, how teachers interacted with children, class sizes, and other indicators of quality care.”

It’s clear that intensive, expensive, very high-quality programs produce significant long-term benefits. The question has been: Can these model programs be replicated? Finding long-term gains from good-but-not-great programs is a hopeful sign.