New Findings Examine How Center-Based Care in the Summer After Preschool Affects Income-Based Disparities in Children’s Academic Skills


The American Education Research Journal recently posted an article, “Can Center-Based Care Reduce Summer Slowdown Prior to Kindergarten? Exploring Variation by Family Income, Race/Ethnicity, and Dual Language Learner Status,” by Meghan McCormick, Mirjana Pralica, Paola Guerrero-Rosada, Christina Weiland, JoAnn Hsueh, Barbara Condliffe, Jason Sachs, and Catherine Snow, that offers new findings from MDRC’s Expanding Children’s Early Learning project in Boston. Using a rich longitudinal dataset with information on where children spent the majority of their time in the summer prior to kindergarten and direct assessments of children’s math and language skills across two subsequent academic years, the study examines how income-, racial-/ethnic-, and language-based disparities grow during prekindergarten, the summer after prekindergarten, and the kindergarten year. The study then tests whether enrollment in center-based care during the summer helps to sustain the gains children make during prekindergarten and whether those patterns vary for children depending on family income, race/ethnicity, and Dual Language Learner (DLL) status.

This analysis was motivated by a need to better identify how districts and states can support learning in the summer prior to the start of kindergarten in order to promote more equitable outcomes for lower-income, non-White, and DLL students. The study reports four main findings:

  1. Although, on average, growth in math and language skills slowed down during the summer for all students, non-White and DLL students showed the largest drop-off in language skills during summer.
  2. Income-based inequality in math skills grew during the summer between prekindergarten and kindergarten.
  3. On average, students who enrolled in summer center-based care had faster growth in math skills during the summer than students who stayed at home with a parent, family member, or babysitter.
  4. However, low-income children who enrolled in center-based care during the summer actually experienced slower growth in language skills during the summer than other low-income children who stayed at home.

The authors had hypothesized that center-based care during the summer would help to reduce disparities in learning outcomes. Although the study found evidence for this theory for higher-income students, the opposite was true for low-income students as it related to their language development, which actually worsened when they were enrolled in summer center-based care. Future work will investigate how the quality of center-based care during summer may explain these results.

“Although the data for this study were collected prior to the pandemic, these findings demonstrate what many are predicting — that school closures (which traditionally happen during the summer) can lead to additional inequality,” said lead author Meghan McCormick, an MDRC research associate. “As districts, schools, and families think about how to structure schooling in the coming year, it is critical to identify strategies to help children gain access to high-quality early learning experiences that can reduce rather than exacerbate these disparities.”

The editors of the American Education Research Journal have generously allowed open access to the article for a limited time.