Developing Measures of the Implementation and Cost of High-Quality Early Care and Education

Developing Measures of the Implementation and Cost of High-Quality Early Care and Education

OPRE Report 2022-04
Published: Jan 31, 2022
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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Associated Project

Assessing the Implementation and Cost of High Quality Early Care and Education (ICHQ)

Time frame: 2014-2022

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

Clients
OPRE Logo
Authors

Andrew Burwick

Dmitriy Poznyak

Theresa Schulte

Key Findings

Early testing with a sample of 30 centers suggests that the ICHQ measures are capturing important information about implementation and costs and the variation that exists across centers. The measures are doing what they are intended to, and they hold promise for working together to inform pathways to quality.

The draft implementation measures have good psychometric properties and both the implementation and cost measures demonstrate validity based on patterns with observable characteristics. The report discusses key findings about the measures such as:

  • The implementation scores for each of the five key center functions produced reliable scales. The items for each function measure the same thing in different ways and together they capture the essence of the function (they hold together).
  • Implementation scores for each key function have distributions that can detect differences across centers. The scores for each key function have substantial variation; we are able to tell centers apart in the middle of the distribution as well as along the tails.
  • Implementation scores for the key functions are related to each other, but each also provides distinct information. We found moderate, significant associations among the implementation scores of the five key functions.
  • The cost measures show that the costs of staff compensation and facilities made up nearly 80 percent of total costs, on average, in line with past cost studies. Centers invest in staff compensation (salary and fringe benefits) as the largest proportion of costs (62 percent, on average). Facilities account for another 16 percent of costs, on average.
  • Centers spent the largest portion of costs on the Instruction and Caregiving function. Centers in the sample directed 33 percent of costs to the Instruction and Caregiving function, on average, and 22 percent of costs to the Instructional Planning, Coordination, and Child Assessment function.
  • Implementation and cost measures vary with center characteristics in ways we would expect. In our sample, centers with high QRIS ratings have higher implementation scores and costs per child care hour, on average, on each key function than centers with low QRIS ratings.
  • The implementation and cost measures are related. The implementation scores and cost per child care hour for each key function are positively related, meaning the higher the implementation score, the higher the cost of the function.

Evidence suggests that high quality early care and education (ECE) can benefit young children, particularly children in families with low incomes. This evidence has prompted increased state and federal investment in quality improvement initiatives and placed emphasis on helping families with low incomes gain access to high quality ECE. Policymakers, administrators, and program and center directors must weigh competing demands and limited resources for quality improvement, but they lack information about the cost of high quality care and the best ways to use resources at the center level to meet expectations for quality.

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families contracted with Mathematica to develop measures that can inform pathways to quality, through the Assessing the Implementation and Cost of High Quality Early Care and Education (ECE-ICHQ) project. The ICHQ (pronounced I-check) measures capture (1) implementation of activities that can support quality in center-based early care and education settings serving children from birth to age 5 (not yet in kindergarten) and (2) the cost of providing care in these settings. The ICHQ implementation and cost measures are framed around five key functions of center operations: (1) Structural Supports for Instruction and Caregiving; (2) Instructional Planning, Coordination, and Child Assessment; (3) Center Administration and Planning; (4) Workforce Development; and (5) Child and Family Support.

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