Comparing Day Care Centers to Early Childhood Education Centers

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While daycare centers and early childhood education centers both cater to children too young to attend school, they are vastly different when it comes to their individual approach and impact on children. The following literature review will provide a synthesis of study to compare and contrast daycare centers and early childhood education centers. This literature review is developed with a synthesized approach in order to incorporate the conclusions and interpretations of experts as it relates multiple aspects of childcare and education. The main points of this literature review will address learning outcomes, early childhood education’s impact within disadvantaged populations, impacts on social skills and emotional expression, and associated direct and indirect costs. Focusing on these topics provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the differences, supported by scholarly sources that can be individually researched for further review. While daycare centers provide basic childcare services, early childhood education centers are known for their learning curriculum which supports student academic growth and development long term. This provides individual benefits for students as well as long term benefits to society. Children who participate in early education programs are provided with an advantage over those who are only exposed to daycare because it provides a strong learning foundation that has lasting and long term impact.

Cognitive Impacts of Day Care versus Early Childhood Education

Barnett (2008) advises that well-designed preschool education programs provide the foundation which can lead to long term academic success, higher test scores, and lower rates of grade repetition. This idea is supported by the research of Bernal and Keane (2006), which finds that ordinary childcare has the smallest effects on learning and development, while childcare centers produce higher cognitive development impacts. This study was based on the human capital production framework established by Lebowitz (1974). This framework creates vectors of time periods according to variables such as time spent in childcare, as well as learning tools provided to them. These learning activities were then evaluated and compared to a baseline in order to determine the cognitive effects of its application (Bernal &Keane, 2006). The outcomes showed that children exposed to learning opportunities had a greater chance of high school performance and improved cognitive abilities. In contrast, typical childcare out of family daycare homes had no impact on cognitive development on children. Although dare care facilities did produce an increase, reflected a very minimal impact of .10 related to cognitive and linguistic development in children (NICHD, 2002). This supports the concept that early childhood education centers are better for children as a function of learning when compared to daycare centers.

It is important to note the reasons why daycare centers lack the cognitive outcomes experienced as a result of childhood education centers. There is an overall lack of stimulation and course structure, which fails to take advantage of the early learning aptitude of young children. This lack of stimulation plays out in providing children with television instead of educational games, and incorporate activities which fail to challenge them, instead of incorporating those that do (Camilli, n.d). In contrast, meta-analysis shows that pre-school education and learning programs help to produce an average of a half standard deviation increase impact on cognitive development, or about 8 points on an IQ test (Gorey, 2001). This reflects the significant impact that early childhood education centers have on student cognitive ability compared to simple daycare facilities.

Social Skills and Disadvantaged Children

Aside from the impact of early childhood education centers on learning development, it also plays a role in social skills. McKey (1985) advises that the impact of early childhood education from a social and emotional perspective improves by about .33 standard deviations. This impact is enough to reduce the gap in readiness by children in poverty and the national average by half. This data represents the significance of early education programs and their potential to not only manage the cognitive function of students but also help to stabilize their social and emotional expression. While this is true across the board, the benefits seem to increase for at-risk children who live in poverty as well as those who are disabled White (1985). In a randomized trial, outcomes showed that children from birth to age 5 who lived in disadvantaged populations benefitted more from attending Head Start early education centers than children who were not in disadvantaged households (Love, 2002). This idea is further supported by Abbot’s 2003 study, which incorporated random assignment of individuals on treatment and wait-list groups for Head Start. Outcomes showed that disadvantaged kids who were exposed to Head Start learning centers had higher improvement levels than students who were not disadvantaged (Abbot, 2003). This stems from poor learning development starting in the home and low baseline cognitive standards when children begin the program, making the cognitive outcome more noticeable in comparison.


As a result of the significant offering differences in daycare and early childhood education, the costs in the private market are significantly divergent. The cost of regular daycare is lower because they do not incur the costs of maintaining educational materials or keeping educated staff on hand to ensure learning and cognitive development in children. The added benefit of cognitive development comes at a premium, especially in the private market. Even in the public market, these aspects come at a cost. However, federally-sponsored programs like Head Start have a subsidy in place to off-set this premium for low-income parents (Ludwig, 2007). Despite this added premium for early education centers, Temple’s (2007) conduction of a benefit-cost analysis reveals that the social and economic benefits of early education programs significantly exceed the costs associated with them. As a result, it is a beneficial investment for state and local governments on the basis that it provides significant value in the long run. If as little as 1/10th of disadvantaged children benefit from these government subsidized early education programs, the investment is worthwhile because it leads to higher grades and fewer academic problems as the children get older (Temple, 2007). Barnett (2004) suggests that these outcomes provide a solid case for universal pre-school and early education programs across the United States in order to realize these benefits on a broader and more massive level. Barnett (2007) advises that if cost is a primary concern of a universal program, the subsidies of families with higher income can be implemented to develop a fee scale that slides. This would reduce pubic cost as well as provide an option for low income and disadvantaged (Barnett & Hustedt, 2005). This provides a potential solution to the economic issue of education costs on a large scale. As a result of the significant research and meta-data outcomes that support early education programs, this structure promises to be impactful and beneficial to society as a whole.


In conclusion, daycare centers and early childhood education centers differ significantly as it relates to their impact on the cognitive functions and development of children and their impact on disadvantaged populations as well as social skills of children. In addition, there is a stark contrast in the cost of the two options as a result of their vastly different expense structures. The research and data related to the short and long term outcomes of exposure to early childhood education centers show that it plays a significant role in the development of children, and society as a whole. This suggests that by focusing on early education, state and local governments can invest in the future of society and produce significant and positive long term impacts. The synthesized literature highlights multiple studies that conclude that early education centers are more beneficial for the cognitive development of children in the long run. Daycare centers fail to focus on learning and development, instead providing minimum care services. It fails to challenge and teach children significantly because it is without a structured and consistent curriculum. While early education programs are significantly more expensive, programs like Head Start provide a government subsidy to accommodate disadvantaged children. This allows the benefits of early education to impact children whose parents can afford it as well as those who need assistance. Despite the added costs and government subsidies necessary to maintain early education programs across the board, this research suggests that a large scale and subsided early education program serves to have long term benefits for the country when viewing it from a perspective of broad societal impact. By impacting the development of cognitive and social skills in children while they are in their most crucial stages of growth and development, early education provides a strong foundation for improved school performance.


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Barnett, W. S. (2007). Benefits and costs of quality early childhood education. The Children's Legal Rights Journal (CLRJ), 27(1), 7-23.

Barnett, W. S., Brown, K., & Shore, R. (2004). The universal vs. targeted debate: Should the United States have preschool for all? Preschool Policy Matters, Issue 6. New Brunswick, NJ: NIEER.

Barnett,W., Hustedt, J., (2005).Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development. Retrieved from

Bernal, R., & Keane, M.P. (2006). Child care choices and children’s cognitive achievement: The case of single mothers. Evanston, IL: Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University.

Camilli, G., Vargas, S., Ryan, S., & Barnett, W.S. Meta-analysis of the effects of early education interventions on cognitive and social development. Teachers College Record.

Gorey, K. M. (2001). Early childhood education: A meta-analytic affirmation of the short- and long-term benefits of educational opportunity. School Psychology Quarterly, 16(1), 9-30.

Love, J. M., Kisker, E. E., Ross, C. M., Schochet, P. Z., Brooks-Gunn, J., Paulsell, D., et al. (2002). Making a difference in the lives of infants and toddlers and their families: The impacts of Early Head Start. Volume I: Final technical report. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Ludwig, J., & Phillips, D. (2007). The benefits and costs of Head Start. Social Policy Report, 21(3), 3-13

McKey, R.H., Condelli, L., Ganson, H., Barrett, B.J., McConkey, C., & Planz, M.C. (1985). The impact of Head Start on children, families, and communities. Washington, DC: Head Start Evaluation Synthesis and Utilization Project.

NICHD Early Care Research Network (2002). Early child care and children’s development prior to school entry: Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. American Educational Research Journal, 39(1), 133-164.

Temple, J., & Reynolds, A. (2007). Benefits and costs of investments in preschool education: Evidence from the Child-Parent Centers and related programs. Economics of Education Review, 26,126-144

White, K., & Casto, G.(1985). Early intervention efficacy studies with at-risk children: Implications for the handicapped. Analysis and Intervention in Developmental Disabilities, 5, 7-31