Nearly all states with public prekindergarten programs use mixed-delivery systems, with classrooms in both public schools and community-based settings. However, experts have long raised concerns about systematic inequities by setting within these public systems. We used data from five large-scale such systems that have taken steps to improve equity by setting (Boston, New York City, Seattle, New Jersey, and West Virginia) to conduct the most comprehensive descriptive study of prekindergarten setting differences to date. Our public school sample included 2,395 children in 383 classrooms in 152 schools, while our community-based sample is comprised of 1,541 children in 201 classrooms in 103 community-based organizations (CBOs). We examined how child and teacher demographic characteristics, structural and process quality features, and child gains differed by setting within each of these systems. We found evidence of sorting of children and teachers by setting within each locality, including of children with higher baseline skills and more educated teachers into public schools. Where there were differences in quality and children’s gains, these tended to favor public schools. The localities with fewer policy differences by setting – NJ and Seattle – showed fewer differences in quality and child gains. Our findings suggest that inequities by setting are common, appear consequential, and deserve more research and policy attention.
early childhood; policy; mixed-delivery; public prekindergarten
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