The Relations Among Childcare Provider Education, Neighborhood Poverty, and the Quality of Childcare Classrooms

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The current study examined contextual influences on the quality of the childcare classroom. Previous research has examined how direct influences, such as childcare provider education, impact childcare quality, but to date, no research has examined how these direct influences interact with distal features, such as neighborhood poverty. Given the large number of children enrolled in childcare and the evidence that high quality childcare benefits children, it is important to identify what contributes to classroom quality. Using hierarchical linear modeling, this study examined (1) if childcare quality varies across neighborhoods, (2) if childcare provider education and (3) neighborhood poverty individually impact classroom quality, and (4) if the impact of childcare provider education on classroom quality varies as a function of the neighborhood. Data collected from the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania's Early to Learn project was used in combination with poverty data derived from the 2000 U.S. Census. Results of the present study were that childcare quality did vary across neighborhoods, but that childcare provider education had no direct impact on classroom quality. However, neighborhood poverty was positively associated with classroom quality. Additionally, there was no differential impact of childcare provider education on quality in the context of the neighborhood. Although these findings may seem to suggest that childcare provider education does not matter, further analyses reveal that higher education was positively related to structural features of the classroom, such as group size and staff: child ratios. Additionally, providers with Associate's degrees and Child Development Associates had the highest quality classrooms, higher than those with a Bachelor's degree and with High School education. More research is needed to fully understand the impact of the childcare provider in the classroom. The findings that classrooms in higher poverty had higher quality classrooms, in addition to the lack of findings regarding childcare provider education, have major implications for future research and policies aimed at improving childcare quality.