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News April 15, 2016

Advice for Measuring Access to Early Childhood Education

Earlier this week I posted about our recent work mapping access to childcare. I asked our research staff to write a few lessons learned for folks interested in performing a similar analysis in their city:

There’s nothing simple about supply. In Philadelphia we discovered a large number (about 27% of the total supply of childcare) of “uncertified” providers flying under the state’s regulatory radar. To help map their contribution to childcare supply we had to rely on business records from third-party providers like the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) and InfoUSA. Business records are messy, but helped provide a deeper insight into each city’s market for early childhood education.

Resident population does not equal demand. Just measuring the number of children under the age of five living in a particular area doesn’t tell us all we need to know about demand for childcare. Many adults use childcare providers near their places of work, so eliminating childcare shortages isn’t just about placing new centers in areas of your city with the fewest childcare facilities. In both cities, we used Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) data to analyze workforce migration and estimate where parents work and where kids were likely to need care.

It’s about quality (and quantity). Quality is difficult to measure, but it’s critical to achieving the largest benefits from early childhood education (see: We used different methodologies to evaluate the quality of childcare providers in Philadelphia and Newark, but in both cases, quality added an important dimension to the analysis. In particular we found that, while disadvantaged communities often had a sufficient supply of childcare, they often lacked a sufficient supply of quality childcare.


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