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.
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.
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.
We’ve been talking about the achievement gap for an awfully long time. We’re all familiar with the term; it’s the disparity in academic achievement between different groups of students. We tend to hear about in relation to white students and students of color, but it can also be used to describe the difference between low-income students and their more advantaged peers.