Most people I know who are invested in early childhood education look at Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address as an important moment. In it, Obama called on the federal government and states to work together to “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” and talked about the economic and social impact of such policies. I teared up when I rewatched this speech. It’s powerful stuff. As it so often does, the conversation about early childhood education and care revolved around quality.
What elements make preschool “high quality”? Structural quality includes features of the care setting or requirements for staff—things like the square footage of a classroom, teacher-child ratio, or teacher education level. We often measure these elements with tools like the ECERS. Process quality is captured in the day-to-day experiences of a child, the teacher-child or child-child interactions that shape their immediate experience. This is what the CLASS measures. But as our friends at the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the UChicago Consortium on School Research pointed out, there’s another aspect of quality that’s lacking a statistically valid tool: organizational quality.
Organizational quality includes the policies, practices, and relationships of a school or center. The things that happen at an organizational level and the things that influence what happens in a classroom. In order to measure this, the Ounce and the UChicago Consortium designed the Early Education Essential Organizational Supports Measurement System, or Early Ed Essentials. It’s a set of teacher and parent surveys that ask questions about these organizational supports and, in doing so, inform quality improvement strategies. The tool includes six essentials: Effective Instructional Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Supportive Environment, Ambitious Instruction, Involved Families, and Parent Voice.
When a new tool like this is created, it’s important to document its validity (does it measure what it intends to?) and reliability (does it measure consistently?). The Ounce and the UChicago Consortium recently reported the exciting results of the Early Ed Essentials validation study.
Long story short: the tool works! Based on the quantitative survey data from 745 teachers and 2,464 parents in Chicago school-based and community-based preschool programs, researchers found relationships between Early Ed Essentials and other quality measures: attendance and CLASS Pre-K scores. Just like we find some relationships between structural and process quality, we’d expect this to happen. Sites that are organizationally supportive should support stronger outcomes. This finding supports the validity of the new tool as a functional measure of quality. Researchers also found the tool to be reliable, showing no bias toward program location (school- or community-based) or between English or Spanish speakers.
In follow-up, in-depth interviews with select sites, they also found practical differences between those with higher and lower scores on the Early Ed Essentials. Sites with high scores were described as “empowering” and “supportive” by staff, whereas teachers at sites with low scores gave feedback about lack of collaboration and absence of leadership practices. This shows that, in addition to the directly measurable difference, the tool showed meaningful differences between sites for teachers and families.
To test the validity of the tool, this study used a mixed methods approach. First, they collected quantitative survey data from 745 teachers and 2,464 parents in Chicago school-based and community-based preschool programs. Researchers examined the relationship between these reports of perceived organizational quality on two outcomes: CLASS Pre-K scores and attendance.
The Early Ed Essentials has the potential to substantially add to how we think about early childhood education and care. We know that children thrive in an environment of warm, supportive, and intellectually challenging interactions. It’s incredibly exciting to see a tool that examines the ways in which we provide the organizational supports to do this.
For more information about the Early Ed Essentials and the validation study, check out the snapshot provided by the Ounce and the UChicago Consortium.
Citation: Ehrlich, S.B., Pacchiano, D.M., Stein, A.G., Wagner, M.R., Luppescu, S., Park, S., Frank, E., Lewandowski, H., & Young, C. (2018). Organizing early education for improvement: Testing a new survey tool. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Ounce of Prevention Fund.
We’ve written before about the discipline disparities between children of color and their white peers. (Since that post was published last year, the Department of Education has released updated - but not improved - statistics on the topic.) But discipline is not the only school arena where children from different backgrounds have different experiences. There’s also evidence that racial bias affects teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations, even in early childhood.
One of my biggest takeaways from the childcare calculator we talked about recently was how much it would cost to increase early childhood educators’ wages. It wasn’t shocking—if you’re looking to get some laughs, ask any teacher you know if they’re in education to make big money—but it was a disappointing reminder of just how little we pay those who are shaping our future. The recently-released 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index gives us some specifics around compensation in early childhood education and care.
All across the world, researchers and educators are working on ways to help students learn. Some are small tweaks or classroom “lifehacks.” Some are big, expensive programs with huge ambitions. Some (like CLASS!) are paradigms about learning. When something works, you want it to be accessible to other practitioners. The problem is, many of the programs that are most effective also take a lot of time, money, or resources.
Okay, this is a slight change from our usual “What We’re Reading” posts. Instead of highlighting a particular article, we wanted to share an interesting application of research: this childcare cost calculator from the Center for American Progress. You can use it to estimate the impact of improving different parts of structural quality (the infrastructure that surrounds teaching, like teacher-child ratios, the physical space, and materials) on the cost of care.