Major Day Care Study Released

The results of a federally-funded study of 1,364 children about the impact of day care were scrutinized over the past week as the media promoted a "day care is bad" storyline. Some media outlets highlighted the negative effects found in the study, released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, while downplaying the positive, even though the study's authors said the differences they between children were slight.

Here's how the Wall Street Journal began its story: "The long-running debate over the merits of day care for children is getting a new jolt of evidence that may worry working parents."

The New York Times, under the headline "Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care," highlighted the negative: "A much-anticipated report from the largest and longest-running study of American child care has found that keeping a preschooler in a day care center for a year or more increased the likelihood that the child would become disruptive in class - and that the effect persisted through the sixth grade."

Meanwhile, MSNBC, which also led with the behavioral problems, mentioned the positive finding in the second paragraph: That children in high-quality care before kindergarten "had better vocabulary scores in fifth grade than did youngsters who received lower-quality care."

The CliffsNotes version of the Study:  The good: Higher vocabulary in fifth grade if the day care's high quality.  The bad: Disruptive classroom behavior is more likely if the child spent a lot time in a day care center. But one of the study's authors told MSNBC that "both the negative and the positive effects were subtle." Researchers added in the Wall Street Journal article: "The quality of parenting children receive is a far stronger and more consistent predictor of achievement and social functioning." (March 2007)