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Citation:Maxwell, K., Bryant, D., & Miller-Johnson, S. (1999). A six-county study of the effects of Smart Start child care on kindergarten entry skills. Chapel Hill, NC: Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center Smart Start Evaluation Team.

The purpose of this study is to determine whether children who attend child care centers that participated in Smart Start quality improvement efforts have better skills when they enter kindergarten than do a comparison group of children from other child care centers. The primary goal of the Smart Start program is to ensure that all children enter school healthy and prepared to succeed. Groups consisted of a) comparison children, b) Smart Start-direct children (the childcare center had activities directly related to improving child care), c) Smart Start-support children (the center had Smart Start activities, but not ones that directly related to improving child care). If the child received no out-of-home care he/she was not included in the comparison group as the study was intended to compare children with out-of-home care. Findings suggest that controlling for poverty and gender, children attending centers participating in Smart Start activities that are directly related to quality improvement have better cognitive and language skills when they entered kindergarten (but not better social skills) than the comparison children. The findings support earlier studies of the positive effects of Smart Start on childrenÕs outcomes. In addition, fewer children in the Smart Start-direct group were rated by their kindergarten teachers as having behavior problems than children in the comparison group. Poverty was also a consistent predictor of kindergarten skills. The findings also suggest that Smart Start efforts need to be directly related to improving the quality of child care if they are to have an effect on childrenÕs school entry skills. The study included 214 Smart Start children (with a subgroup of 142 children in centers with activities directly related to improving child care) and 294 comparison children. Data were gathered on the cognitive, language, social, and behavioral skills of the children. The authors conclude that child care quality improvements should be intense and based on best practice if one wants to have an effect on childrenÕs school entry skills. Additionally, they propose that funding support that is more direct for a smaller number of child care centers may be more effective in producing changes. This is a study of a specific improvement program in North Carolina and may not generalize to other settings. As with any study of associations, one must recognize the possibility that other factors produced the positive outcomes. Additional research is needed to better understand which particular Smart Start quality improvement efforts produce greater changes in classroom quality and child outcomes.

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