Working paper

Preschool and Child-Care Quality in California Neighborhoods

Policy Success, Remaining Gaps
Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley
Susan D. Holloway
University of California, Berkeley
Lauri Bozzi
Cambridge Friends School
Nancy E. Cohen
University of California, Berkeley
Sawako Suzuki
Saint Mary's College of California


The basic availability of preschools and centers remains unevenly distributed between affluent and lower-income communities. Yet policy initiatives mounted over the past 35 years have markedly equalized supply in some states, including California. This paper advances the knowledge of the distribution of center-based programs by asking three questions:

  1. What levels of quality are observed among preschools and centers situated in diverse lower-income communities?

  2. Does quality vary depending upon the richness or scarcity of center-based programs inside neighborhoods? Do gains in supply thin out quality?

  3. Does quality move upward as center directors acquire more public funding and insulate their organizations from uncertain local contexts?

Based on several quality indicators reported by 170 center directors in three California counties—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Clara—this paper finds that the majority of centers displayed high levels of quality along structural measures, such as class size, the ratio of children per adult, and staff education levels. About one in six failed to meet recommended quality standards. Some quality indicators were slightly lower for centers located in communities with less supply, possibly due to directors’ attempts to accommodate greater family demand for enrollment slots.

Center quality was not consistently influenced by community conditions such as poverty levels, ethnic composition, or maternal employment rates. Quality was higher among centers receiving stronger flows of public subsidies. The paper discusses the success of state agencies in building high quality among centers in lower-income communities, as well as the policy challenges that remain.

Suggested citationFuller, B., Holloway, S. D., Bozzi, L., Cohen, N. E., & Suzuki, S. (2001, August). Preschool and child-care quality in California neighborhoods: Policy success, remaining gaps [Working paper]. Policy Analysis for California Education.