July 2017

Assessing Quality in Connecticut’s Early Childhood System

Nicole Updegrove, Ray Noonan, and Daniel Long, Ph.D.

Every child deserves a strong start in life: children need to enter kindergarten healthy, happy, and eager to learn. That requires high-quality care early in life: research shows that early childhood represents a window of explosive learning that can set the course for a lifetime.

Providing quality care for young children benefits parents, children, childcare workers, and the state economy. In the first issue brief in this series, we estimated that if all young children who need child care were in high-quality settings, the state would gain $13.4 billion in long-term returns. In this second brief, we delve deeper into the question of what is meant by “high-quality” settings. We review the literature analyzing the components of high-quality early care and education (ECE), assess the extent to which Connecticut’s center-based early care programs meet those standards,  and make recommendations for how Connecticut can continue expanding both quality and access.

Key Conclusions

  • The best models for early care and education show significant enduring benefits in children’s test scores, graduation rates, employment, earnings, and other areas.
  • High-quality early care and education has two key components: responsive classroom experiences plus wrap-around supports to meet the needs of the whole child and the family.
  • Although most ECE programs in Connecticut do not include rigorous wrap-around supports, our state’s early childhood system as a whole includes those supports.
  • Connecticut’s NAEYC-accredited ECE programs are roughly comparable to the best available models and bring an estimated $2.3 billion in long-term returns to the state.
  • Despite recent efforts to improve the quality of care, increasing access to care remains a significant challenge, especially for low-income families.

Recommendations to Improve Quality and Access

  1. Preserve funding for wrap-around service programs for early childhood.
  2. Continue current Office of Early Childhood quality improvement efforts, with greater involvement of parents and ECE providers.
  3. Prioritize access to care for low-income families.

Connecticut Voices would like to acknowledge the support of the Connecticut Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, a project of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy.

Issue Areas:
Early Care, Education