Moving towards a post-pandemic world, early childhood education is still in a fractured state of recovery. Numerous headlines define the inequitable foundation early childhood system is built on that limits educators’ capacity to thrive and impact children’s lives. Yet demand for early learning remains steadfast as families get back to routines in communities everywhere. How do policymakers start to level the playing field for early childhood programs with equitable policies while increasing access for families in need of high-quality care?
Why Revisions to QRIS May Be Needed
Recently, Teachstone hosted the Policy Equity Group, a national early childhood expert, in a conversation on how policymakers can increase equity by collectively revising their approach to quality for early learning programs. While high-quality early childhood settings are celebrated for supporting children’s school readiness and improving children’s developmental outcomes, quality systems can have the unintended consequences of perpetuating gaps in resources, funding, and ultimately, access to high-quality teaching practices for all children.
For example, multiple studies demonstrate that the well-intentioned performance indicators of quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) are not predictive of child outcomes. Instead, indicators may focus on tangible elements that can be easily monitored, such as teachers’ degrees or materials in a classroom, but are not related to children’s developmental outcomes. Related supports, such as professional development training and continuous quality improvement (CQI) pathways, are subsequently misaligned to the goal of ensuring children’s school readiness across all programs.
A further challenge is the financial incentives linked to QRIS performance. Many states have tiered funding policies, meaning programs receive more funding after meeting increasing levels of quality. Programs with greater capacity to invest up front in QRIS standards achieve the highest levels of quality—and financial reward. Very often, these are not the programs serving the communities most in need of high-quality early learning. As a study on Pennsylvania’s tiered reimbursement system demonstrates, the result is programs serving Black and Latinx children receiving much less funding than those serving White children.
This all adds up to systems that are not meeting the intended goal of best preparing all children for school and beyond, especially in communities with higher levels of generational poverty. As outlined in a series of innovative videos, there are specific elements ripe for targeting within state early childhood systems.
QRIS System Revision Considerations
In conversation with Policy Equity Group, Teachstone offers the following considerations for quality system revisions:
- Center on what matters most. Teacher-child interactions are the most predictive indicator of positive child outcomes. By shifting to measure interactions as the foundational indicator for quality across all programs — instead of a hodgepodge of mismatched indicators — states have the opportunity to make the complex simple and drive meaningful practices in early learning programs.
- Lift up every classroom. Variation in quality can vary more across classrooms in a single program than across multiple programs within a community. When intentionally centering on the interactions happening within every classroom — and providing the targeted support reflective of each teacher’s needs —early childhood systems can equitably reach every child.
- Allow for reflective quality pathways. Built on top of a new foundation centered on interactions, multiple pathways to quality supports a strengths-based approach that is responsive to community need and empowers program choice. Families can select programs based on their specialized practices and cultural responsiveness, as well.
- Level the financial playing field. Move away from tiered financial incentives and focus on base rates that drive the practices everyone agrees on — low teacher to child ratios, living wages for early childhood professionals, and healthy physical learning environments. Create financial equity so that all programs can attract, train, and retrain early educators—an absolute for ensuring families have access to programs in their community.
- Empower Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI). When programs fall short of meeting a quality threshold, CQI is the opportunity to improve program quality and drive shared goals. Steps states can take include offering training on data use, offering easy access to benchmark data for CQI planning, and implementing local CQI hubs that are embedded in the communities they serve.
With the recent release of the Preschool Development Grants Birth to Five (PDG B-5), Congress and the federal administration expanded their commitment to supporting comprehensive state early childhood systems. As highlighted in the webinar, states have a significant opportunity to revisit early childhood systems and supports that enable equitable quality and continuous quality improvement. PDG B-5 is an opportunity for all states, and in a forthcoming post, Teachstone will offer succinct steps states can take in their PDG B-5 application to meet the goal of equity across quality, professional development, and CQI support.
In the meantime, if you have any additional questions about rebuilding quality systems, or if you need support in preparing your PDG B-5 grant, you can contact Teachstone for support.