A six-year study at Yale and three other institutions has reached what appears to be a fairly obvious conclusion: Children who attend high-quality child care centers are better prepared for elementary school than children in less stimulating environments. But the findings are important, according to the authors, because quality has never been a significant factor in the debate on child care.

“For a very long time policy makers felt that investments in child care were satisfied if they increased the number of available program slots,” said Sharon Lynn Kagan, Ed.D., a senior research scientist in the Yale Child Study Center and senior associate at the Bush Center for Child Development. “The recommendations have always been to invest in quality. The imperative has never been quite as clear until now.”

The Cost Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers Study followed more than 800 children from their penultimate year of child care through the second grade. The better prepared students had higher math and language skills, behaved better in class and were more capable of interacting with their peers. “This study changes the conversation from investments in supply to investments in supply and quality,” Kagan said. The researchers and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley presented the findings at a Washington press conference in June.