Child and Family Policy in the 21st Century: A Focus on Early Childhood Education and Parental Work


This dissertation consists of three studies related to parental employment, maternity leave policy, and early care and education. In study 1, my coauthor and I evaluate the impact of parenthood on men and women’s job performance and career advancement using detailed data from the U.S. Marines. For parents who remain employed after having a baby, disruptions in home life and health may spill over into their performance at work. Using monthly data from 2010 to 2019, we exploit variation in the precise timing of first births to identify impacts on health-dependent measures of worker performance. We then compare parents’ promotion trajectories to similar non-parents’ trajectories, using a matching approach that assigns non-parents to “placebo births.” We find negative impacts on parents’ employer-assessed physical fitness and supervisor-rated job performance, concentrated mainly among women. Consistent with these findings, women’s promotion trajectories slow down in response to childbirth but men’s do not. In a complementary analysis, we exploit sudden policy changes to the length of paid maternity leave to explore whether leave length is associated with mothers’ job performance and career advancement. Longer leaves exacerbate declines in women’s job-related physical fitness but do not consistently appear to slow their promotion trajectories to a greater or lesser degree. Results suggest longer periods away from work due to maternity leave may erode job-specific skills but not on the margin that drives changes in career advancement in this setting. In study 2, along with coauthors, I explore variation in observer-rated preschool teaching quality within the school year and im-plications for the accuracy of early childhood education accountability evaluations. Account-ability systems designed to monitor and enhance early childhood education program quality increasingly rely on observational ratings of teachers’ skills. We draw on a unique data set with 2,803 observational ratings of 303 preschool teachers to characterize within-school-year patterns of growth and decline in teacher quality, as measured by the observational tool the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) (Pianta et al., 2008). We then quantify the share of total within-teacher variability in ratings explained by time trends. Last, we simulate accountability outcomes under the federal Head Start accountability policy, based on the time of year a program’s teachers are assessed. Results show observed teacher quality ratings generally decline during the beginning of the school year; improve during the winter months; and plateau in the spring. This pattern is particularly pronounced for instructional support CLASS ratings, which capture how teachers foster students’ higher-order thinking. Simulation analyses confirm sizeable differences in accountability outcomes based on pro-gram observation date, with especially large differences in the likelihood of failing a Head Start accountability review due to time-patterned variation in instructional support scores. In study 3, I investigate how early care and education providers respond to the expansion of public pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) funding in Illinois. Federal, state, and local governments have increasingly invested in such programs, with the goal of increasing families’ access to early care and education settings. However, it remains unclear whether public pre-K funding effectively draws new providers into the market for care and, if not, whether already established providers that receive public pre-K funds shift program operations in response. Using detailed longitudinal data on the universe of child care providers in Illinois, I identify what portion of public pre-K providers that receive funding are new to service delivery vs. already established. Next, among established providers, I compare changes in service delivery before and after public pre-K funding receipt to changes over time in observably similar providers, identified using a propensity score matching approach. I find Illinois’ pre-K expansion funds go to very few new providers; 75% of funded programs existed for 3 years or more before they were awarded funding. Among these, public pre-K funding increases the odds that a provider remains in business and increases the number of distinct child care sessions it offers for preschoolers. The latter finding is closely related to the nature of the funding, which covers only part-day care for eligible children. Findings on the immediate impacts of public pre-K on funded providers begin to inform our understanding of how the early care and education sector responds to state pre-K expansion.

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