About the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H)

The Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) is a multi-year study that examines children’s development in the context of their early education and care settings.

Findings from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) show:

The importance of a mixed-delivery system of early education and care, i.e., a system with different types of settings

  • Families rely on a range of formal (e.g., Head Start, center-based care, public pre-K) and more informal (e.g., home-based, relative care) early education settings; when choosing a setting for their child, families balance many logistical constraints and personal preferences.
  • But for many families – and especially low- and middle-income families – early education choices remain tightly constrained due to issues of affordability and supply.
  • No one early education setting type is inherently of higher quality than another; children develop and learn well in every setting type, and in the study, all setting types showed room to grow in quality.

The critical role of early educators in driving quality across all setting types despite challenging working conditions

  • Early educators play a critical role in supporting the well-being of young children and families across setting types
  • Yet their pay, benefits, and other professional supports are often inadequate in light of the job demands and their cost of living. 

The relative importance of different indicators of quality

  • Indicators of quality that are directly connected to adult-child interactions and relationships, such as class size and child-teacher ratio, show a more consistent relationship to child outcomes than more traditional and less malleable indicators of quality, such as educator years of experience and formal education level. This finding underscores the importance and promise of increasing professional support for educators, including on-the-job learning opportunities, to drive quality improvement.

The ongoing need for more data from large-scale studies

  • We have learned a great deal from this groundbreaking, large-scale study. Nevertheless, there is still much to learn about what children, families, and educators need, and about what “works” – for whom and under what circumstances – across all the diverse settings where young children learn and grow.