Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children


What does early education and care look like in Massachusetts? Is it mostly center-based? Or are families mostly relying on grandma and their next-door neighbors?

Answers are emerging from the Early Learning Study being run by the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).

Drawing from a survey of 90,000 Massachusetts households, researchers found that:

• 55 percent of families were enrolled in formal care settings

• 14 percent enrolled in informal care settings

• 14 percent used a mix of formal and informal care, and

• 17 percent of children were care for solely by their parents

By setting, the breakdown is roughly:

• 32 percent of families place children in community-based centers

• 19 percent use public school pre-K programs

• 17 percent rely on an unlicensed relative

• 17 percent of children are with their parents

• 8 percent are with an unlicensed non-relative

• almost 5 percent are in Head Start, and

• almost 2.5 percent are in family child care

The full report on these findings is posted here.

“We began this study over a year ago and are learning more about the entire early education and care landscape in the Commonwealth. We will be linking the features of those settings to children’s learning and development,” Nonie Lesaux said in a press release. Lesaux is an author of the report as well as HGSE’s academic dean.

“What we’re really interested in are the ‘key ingredients’ and how those could be scaled more broadly.”

Among the other findings:

• “early educators and caregivers in Massachusetts have on average nearly two decades of experience working with young children, and that the vast majority of these educators and caregivers are women”

• “Parents consistently reported high levels of confidence in their child’s education and care across geographic regions of the Commonwealth,” and

• “Four-year-olds were more likely to be enrolled in formal care only (60% vs. 50% of three-year-olds), and less likely to be enrolled in informal care only (10% vs. 18% of three-year-olds)”

These are only initial results. More findings will be released.

“Over the next few years, we will begin to see what learning outcomes and developmental gains we can expect from early learning environments,” said Stephanie Jones, an HGSE professor and one of the report’s co-authors. “These findings raise important questions about how parents make decisions about the types of education and care they currently use and the implications of these decisions for the design of a high-quality system that serves all families.”

As the Zaentz initiative website explains, the goal is to make sure that the science of early education aligns with families’ use of early education and care programs.

“Only then will we be positioned to address the big questions and concerns facing the field, including that of “fade out”—the observation that positive effects of exposure to high-quality early education are not maintained through the school years—and those of scale, including what models work, for whom, and under what conditions.”