Poster Paper: Will Information about Program Quality Change How Parents Choose Child Care? New Evidence from Louisiana on the Role of Quality in Parental Decision-Making

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daphna Bassok1, Chloe Gibbs2, Amanda Johnson1 and Preston Magouirk1, (1)University of Virginia, (2)University of Chicago

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), which are accountability systems that measure and publicize the quality of early childhood programs, have emerged as a widespread and potentially powerful policy lever for improving the quality of childcare and preschool programs. Today, 40 states have statewide QRIS systems, and nearly all others are in the planning or piloting phases (QRIS National Learning Network, 2015). One goal of QRIS is to help parents identify high quality early learning options. If a lack of information leads parents—particularly low-income parents—to select lower quality programs, then quality information from QRIS may support more equitable selection of high quality care. However, the utility of QRIS in improving access to early learning opportunities rests largely on untested assumptions about parents’ preferences and behaviors.

Our study examines whether parents value and seek out the type of quality factors typically included in QRIS. QRIS typically focus on features of care settings hypothesized to support young children’s development (e.g. ratios, teacher-child interactions). While these features may be salient in parental decisions, it may be that parents, particularly low-income parents, prioritize more practical aspects (e.g. hours, location, cost).

Although prior research explored parents’ childcare searches and perceptions of quality, much of it is dated or relies on small, homogeneous samples. In contrast, we collected survey data from a diverse sample of families whose children were enrolled in publicly-funded childcare centers, Head Start programs, and public schools across five Louisiana parishes. Our sample includes 1,300 parents of four-year-old children enrolled in during the 2014-15 school year (response rate=77%).

Our preliminary analysis indicates that most parents do not do substantial “comparison shopping” when selecting childcare. Two thirds of parents did not visit a center other than the one where their child is enrolled and 40 percent did not even consider another center. Notably, patterns are strongly linked to education. More highly educated parents were more likely to compare care options and less likely to indicate high levels of satisfaction. This suggests a possible role for quality information, particularly among less educated parents, in supporting parents’ searches for care. We also find that although families across the board value child-centered measures of quality, low-income parents are far more constrained by practical considerations (cost, location, hours). We are currently replicating our analysis with another large-scale survey (including all families enrolled in one large Lousiana parish).

Nearly every state is currently rolling out or expanding a quality rating system that relies, in part, on parents’ being responsive to quality information. This study provides relevant new insight from Louisiana, a state implementing its own QRIS and investing in systems to improve parental information and choice.  The study provides insight into how state policies might support more equitable access to high quality early childhood care programs.