NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

What Do Parents Look for When Choosing an Early Childhood Care Arrangement?

The short answer to this question is reliability. However, new 2019 data from the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) program indicate that parents typically consider many factors when choosing care arrangements for their young children.  

The Early Childhood Program Participation: 2019 survey found that 59 percent of children age 5 and under were in a care arrangement (including care from a relative other than a parent, care from a nonrelative, or attendance at a preschool or day care) in 2019. The parents of these children were asked how important various factors were when choosing their child’s care arrangement. The reliability of the arrangement was the factor most often rated as “very important”: 87 percent of children had parents who rated reliability as very important when choosing a care arrangement for their child (figure 1). This factor was followed by available times for care and qualifications of staff (75 and 72 percent, respectively). A majority of children’s parents also rated the following factors as very important:

  • Learning activities (68 percent)
  • Location (60 percent)
  • Time spent with other children (59 percent)
  • Cost (55 percent)

Figure 1. Among children age 5 and under who were not yet in kindergarten and were in at least one weekly care arrangement, percentage whose parents indicated that the factor was “very important” when choosing child’s care arrangement: 2019

SOURCE: Cui, J., and Natzke, L. (2020). Early Childhood Program Participation: 2019 (NCES 2020-075). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


For many factors, the percentage of children whose parents rated the factor as very important when choosing a care arrangement was similar across the children’s age ranges. However, for 5 of the 11 factors, ratings varied depending on the child’s age. For example, the percentage of children whose parents rated time spent with other children as very important increased with the age of the child (figure 2). Similarly, learning activities were rated as very important more often for children ages 3–5 (74 percent) than for younger children (59 percent for children under age 1; 64 percent for children ages 1–2).


Figure 2.  Among children age 5 and under who were not yet in kindergarten and were in at least one weekly care arrangement, percentage whose parents indicated that the factor was “very important” when choosing child’s care arrangement, by age of child: 2019

SOURCE: Cui, J., and Natzke, L. (2020). Early Childhood Program Participation: 2019 (NCES 2020-075). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


The opposite pattern was true for the number of children in group and website ratings. Both of these factors were rated as very important more often by parents of children under age 1 (51 and 35 percent, respectively) than by parents of children ages 3–5 (40 and 25 percent, respectively).

More detailed information about child care arrangements is available in Early Childhood Program Participation: 2019. For a look at why parents of K–12 students choose schools for their children, check out this blog post and the recent NCES release Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019.

 

By Lisa Hudson, NCES

Why Do Parents Choose Schools for Their Children?

Have you ever wondered why parents choose a specific school for their child? New data from the Parent and Family Involvement (PFI) Survey of the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) program allow us to identify the factors that parents of K–12 students rate as “very important” when choosing a school. In the 2018–19 school year, 36 percent of students had parents who indicated that they had considered multiple schools for their child. Among these students, 79 percent had parents who indicated that the quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff was very important (figure 1). Other factors that a majority of students’ parents indicated as being very important include safety (including student discipline) (71 percent) and curriculum focus or unique academic programs (e.g., language immersion, STEM focus) (59 percent).


Figure 1. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Although parents of students attending different types of schools (i.e., public assigned schools, public chosen schools, private religious schools, or private nonreligious schools) rated most factors for choosing a school similarly, some differences were observed. For example, higher percentages of students in private nonreligious schools than of students in all other kinds of schools had parents who indicated that the following factors were very important when choosing a school:

  • Quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff (92 percent) (figure 1)
  • Curriculum focus or unique academic programs (74 percent) (figure 1)
  • Number of students in class (58 percent) (figure 2)

In addition, a higher percentage of students in private nonreligious schools (42 percent) than of students in public schools (30 percent for public assigned schools and 31 percent for public chosen schools) had parents who indicated that student body characteristics were very important when choosing a school (figure 2). Conversely, a lower percentage of students in private nonreligious schools (14 percent) than of students in any other school type (ranging from 22 to 29 percent) had parents who rated cost as very important.


Figure 2. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Thirty percent of students in public assigned schools had parents who reported that they had considered other schools for their child. What did parents of students in public assigned schools value more than other parents (figure 3)?

  • Extracurricular options (including before- and after-school programs): 31 percent of parents of students in public assigned schools indicated that this factor was very important, compared with 25 percent in public chosen schools and 24 percent in private religious schools.
  • Special facilities (e.g., gymnasium, planetarium, library): 26 percent of parents of students in public assigned schools indicated that this factor was very important, compared with 20 percent in public chosen schools and 15 percent in private religious schools.
  • Quality or availability of special education (including services for students with disabilities): 25 percent of parents of students in public assigned schools indicated that this factor was very important, compared with 13 percent in private religious schools and 17 percent in private nonreligious schools.

Figure 3. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


On the other hand, a lower percentage of students in public assigned schools had parents who indicated that the quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff was very important (77 percent) than did students in any other type of school (82 percent of students in public chosen schools, 84 percent of students in private religious schools, and 92 percent of students in private nonreligious schools) (figure 1).

Only 38 percent of students in private religious schools had parents who indicated that the religious orientation of the school was very important when choosing a school (figure 4). Likewise, only a quarter of students overall had parents who indicated that convenience of location was very important when choosing a school.


Figure 4. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


More details about the characteristics and factors that play a role in school choice, as well as additional statistics on family involvement in schools, are available in the recent NCES release Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019.

 

By Sarah Grady, NCES

NHES Data Files Provide Researchers Supplemental Information on Survey Respondents’ Communities

Increasingly, researchers are merging survey data with data from external sources, such as administrative data or different surveys, to enhance analyses. Combining data across sources increases the usefulness of the data while minimizing the burden on survey respondents.

In September, the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) released restricted-use supplemental geocode data files that use sample respondents’ addresses to integrate the 2016 NHES Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP), and Adult Training and Education (ATES) survey data with data from other collections. The supplemental geocode files include additional geographic identifiers, characteristics of respondents’ neighborhoods and local labor markets, radius-based measures of household proximity to job search assistance and educational opportunities, and, for surveys focused on children, school district identifiers based on home addresses and school district characteristics.

The new data can complement researchers’ analyses of data from all three surveys. Researchers can expand their analyses of school choice and access to K–12 schooling options using the PFI survey data. Those interested in analyses of decisions about children’s early education can use the ECPP survey data to look at the availability of Head Start programs, preschools in private schools near children’s homes, and the prevalence of prekindergarten programs in local school districts. Researchers interested in nondegree credential attainment and training for work can use data from the ATES to find information on local labor markets and the number of American Job Centers near respondents’ homes.

The NHES:2016 restricted-use supplemental geocode files are available to restricted-use license holders to be used in conjunction with the NHES:2016 survey data files. To access the full set of NHES:2016 geocode supplemental restricted-use data files, apply for a restricted-use license. You can also browse the list of variables in the supplemental geocode files.

 

By Emily Isenberg and Sarah Grady, NCES

Higher Rates of Homeschooled Students Than Enrolled Students Participated in Family Learning Activities in 2016

About 3 percent of the school-age population—around 1.7 million students—was homeschooled in 2016. We know that homeschooled students have different educational experiences than students who are enrolled in public or private schools, and recently released data explore some of those differences.

The Parent and Family Involvement in Education survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) provides information on homeschooled and public and private school students based on a nationally representative sample. Parents provide information about their children’s formal education and learning activities outside of school.

The survey asks about six broad types of family learning activities that students experienced in the month prior to the survey. The 2016 results indicate that homeschooled students were more likely than their peers enrolled in public or private schools to participate in five of these six activities.

In 2016, higher percentages of homeschooled students than of students enrolled in public or private schools visited a library; a bookstore; an art gallery, museum, or historical site; and a zoo or aquarium in the month prior to completion of the survey (figure 1). A higher percentage of homeschooled students also attended an event sponsored by a community, religious, or ethnic group with their parents in the month prior to completion of the survey. The one activity for which there was no measurable difference between homeschooled and students enrolled in public or private schools was going to a play, concert, or other live show.

 


Figure 1. Percentage of 5- to 17-year-old students participating in selected family learning activities in the past month, by homeschool and enrollment status: 2016

 

NOTE: Includes 5- to 17-year-old students in grades or grade equivalents of kindergarten through grade 12. Homeschooled students are school-age children who receive instruction at home instead of at a public or private school either all or most of the time. Excludes students who were enrolled in public or private school more than 25 hours per week and students who were homeschooled only because of temporary illness. Selected activities with the child may have included any member of the household.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (PFI-NHES), 2016.


 

The NHES data do not tell us why these differences exist, but parents’ availability of time and parenting style may be a factor. However, more research is needed to understand these differences.

A recent report, Homeschooling in the United States: Results from the 2012 and 2016 Parent and Family Involvement Survey (PFI-NHES:2012 and 2016), provides the full complement of data from the NHES about homeschoolers’ experiences in 2016. In addition to family learning activities, the report provides information about the following:
 

  • Homeschooler demographics

  • Reasons for homeschooling

  • Providers of homeschool instruction

  • Amount of time homeschoolers spent attending public schools, private schools, or college

  • Participation in local homeschool group activities

  • Homeschool teaching styles

  • Sources of homeschool curriculum and books

  • Online coursetaking of homeschool students

  • Homeschool subject areas

  • Parent expectations of homeschooled students’ future education
     

For more information on the National Household Education Surveys Program, please go to https://nces.ed.gov/nhes/.

 

By Sarah Grady

Cost Considered “Very Important” to Parents Who Chose Relatives as Caregivers for Young Children

When it comes to choosing a child care arrangement, cost is a big factor in the choices parents make, according to recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Every 3 years, NCES conducts the Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) component of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) to answer questions about young children’s care and education before starting kindergarten. The ECPP survey reported that 60 percent of children under age 5 who were not yet in kindergarten participated in at least one weekly nonparental care arrangement in 2016. Of those receiving nonparental care,

  • 42 percent received only center-based care;
  • 25 percent received only relative care;
  • 20 percent received multiple types of care; and
  • 12 percent received only nonrelative care.

When asked what factors influenced their choice of child care arrangements, 51 percent of parents ranked the cost as “very important” when selecting an arrangement in 2016. This percentage was higher among parents of children in relative care (63 percent) than among parents of children in multiple types of care arrangements (50 percent) and parents of children only in center-based care (47 percent).

Overall, in 2016, some 39 percent of parents with children in nonparental care reported that they had difficulty finding child care. This rate was lowest for parents of children only in relative care (23 percent) and highest for parents of children only in nonrelative care (53 percent). However, among parents who had difficulty trying to find child care, cost was a larger concern for those with children only in relative care than it was for those with children in other arrangements (see figure 1).

 


Figure 1. Percentage of children under age 5 whose parents reported that cost was the primary reason for difficulty finding child care arrangements, by type of arrangement: 2016

NOTE: Data are for children participating in at least one weekly nonparental care arrangement. Excludes children enrolled in kindergarten.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Costs of Child Care: Results From the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP-NHES:2016).


 

In 2016, fees were less common and costs were generally lower for parents with children in relative care than for parents with children in other types of nonparental care arrangements. Thirty-two percent of parents with children in at least one care arrangement were not charged fees for care, and 58 percent of those children were in relative care. Among children in relative care, 80 percent were cared for by grandparents. When parents paid grandparents for their children’s care, they paid an average of $4.86 per hour, less than the average across all types of care arrangements ($6.93 per hour).

For more detailed information about costs of child care, see The Costs of Child Care: Results From the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP-NHES:2016).

 

By Tracae McClure and Sarah Grady