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From Compliance to Continuous Quality Improvement

15 Jul 2015 by Guest Blogger

It seems that every time I sit down to write a blog post I am traveling via plane, train, or automobile to a conference. Today I am headed to National Harbor, Maryland for the QRIS National Meeting to join 850 state and national leaders to discuss moving the QRIS conversation from compliance to continuous quality improvement. My journey (literally and figuratively) started with a cup of coffee and Debi Mathias’ Build blog post BUILDing Strong Foundations. In the post, Debi highlights the message that my colleagues at Teachstone and I push forward everyday—to truly move the needle on quality and impact the future for ALL of our country’s youngest children, we must move beyond simply checking a box noting compliance and change practices through an embedded, ongoing, quality improvement process. The CLASS system is an integral part of this process. By linking observations with professional development, programs can move the needle on quality.


BUILDing Strong Foundations

Shifting the Conversation: From Compliance to Continuous Quality Improvement

You probably have visited an early childhood classroom that has “it” – that energy you feel when you walk in the door, a tangible feeling of excitement. Children are playing, laughing, testing out new ideas, problem solving, all engrossed in an inquiry approach to learning.

Look further. You’ll find it’s not just the children who are engaged, but their teachers and families. They are all part of a culture of learning – one that needs to exist in every early childhood setting, for every child and family, across all racial/ethnic, language, and economic boundaries. 

Of course, this culture is by design, not luck. At the QRIS National Meeting this week (July 15-17), we’ll explore how states create and scale up this culture of reflection, innovation and Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) within their early learning systems. And we’ll ask if their definition of quality provides the same standard of excellence for children of all races, ethnicities, cultures, and home languages – or if that definition is based on a view that, in effect, shows concern for less than half the young child population.

How Do We Get There?

Compliance is clear-cut; many states have made great progress in figuring out the standards, accountability and monitoring. Less defined, however, is how states can support programs and practitioners to move beyond compliance and into the CQI process. That support can only be available if state leaders can answer “Yes” to each of the following questions:

  • Are QRIS policies, processes, and supports aligned with our state’s theory of change and the goals of the systems building on the ground?  
  • Are we working together with our implementing partners and programs to create a vibrant learning community within the state, communities and among our colleagues? 
  • Are we engaged in a learning community with other states, highlighting what works and what doesn’t? 
  • Are the correct supports in place for ECE program leaders to develop and lead progress toward the vision, to own and understand the change, benchmark the progress, facilitate and support teacher growth, and learn from their data and from the mistakes?
  • Are all the people supporting the programs engaged in their own community of practice to improve their skills and knowledge? 
  • Are we focusing on the specific strategies and practices that incrementally improve teaching and lead to increased school readiness and better child outcomes?

CQI for All

Of equal importance is ensuring equitable access for all children to excellent ECE classrooms, as well as teachers who are prepared to teach each and every child. As Aisha Ray, Ph.D. discussed at a recent BUILD/Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes learning table on state policy to improve teaching and children’s learning, the challenge is to create “a workforce at all levels that is able to provide equitable, high quality, culturally responsive, intellectually rigorous, and emotionally supportive care and education for children, including the most vulnerable.” So an additional question for consideration is:

Are we providing the professional development and communities of support necessary to create culturally-responsive teachers?

Standards, processes and accountability metrics are all important ingredients for effective classrooms. But rote compliance without understanding, engagement and a culture of reflection and improvement will not maximize the potential and sustainability of systems-building efforts. On the contrary, it will create a sense of drudgery for teachers focused on scores rather than quality – a drudgery that will trickle down to our youngest learners. The need for a change in the way the field thinks about teaching and learning is clear. Noting that, “…successful systems combine strategies of capacity building and transparency of results and practice,” Michael Fullan has urged a shift to a collaborative culture focused on teaching practice among K-12 educators. Similarly, BUILD’s QRIS National Learning Network urges a state systems’ mindset shift from compliance to CQI – one that recognizes equitable access and outcomes as a top priority.

Debi Mathias, Director of the QRIS National Learning NetworkPlease join Debi Mathias, BUILD’s QRIS National Learning Network Director, in her effort to create a CQI-specific Community of Practice. Contact her at dmathias@buildinitiative.org.






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