Panel Paper: The Effects of State Quality Standards on Program Quality in Head Start

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kathryn E. Gonzalez, Harvard University

In recent years, the use of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) has grown rapidly as a means of promoting and measuring quality in early childhood education programs. Nearly 40 states have adopted or are in the process of developing a QRIS in order to incentivize quality in ECE programs, deliver professional development, and provide information to families regarding the quality of ECE programs (Mitchell, 2012). Head Start programs are eligible to participate in most state QRIS systems, and the revised Head Start program and performance standards emphasize participation in QRIS (US HHS Administration for Children & Families, 2016). Little is known, however, about how states’ QRIS adoption has impacted Head Start program quality.

In the present study, I examine how the adoption of QRIS systems has affected components of process and structural quality in Head Start programs. Because there is considerable variation across state QRIS systems in how these systems define program quality, and the specific approaches used to support quality improvement (Connors & Morris, 2015), I examine the extent to which the impact of QRIS adoption varies based on the focus and content of these systems.

Data for the present study come from the Head Start Program Information Reports (PIRs), combined with information on state QRIS systems compiled based on the Compendium of Quality Rating Systems and Evaluations (Tout et al., 2010). Head Start PIR files contain panel data on the full universe of Head Start programs, including aggregated teacher and participant information. The project also uses data from the Head Start CLASS reports, which contain grantee-level information on the quality of teacher-child interactions in Head Start classrooms.


To examine the effect of QRIS adoption on program quality in Head Start centers, the study uses a difference-in-differences approach that utilizes the variation in structure of QRIS systems and timing of adoption across states. To examine the extent to which QRIS adoption has affected program quality in Head Start, I compare within-state changes over time in both structural and process quality components (including teacher qualifications, staff-child ratios, the quality of teacher-child interactions, and teacher turnover) between Head Start programs in states that implemented QRIS, and states that did not.

I also examine the extent to which the impact of QRIS adoption varies based on the focus and content of these systems. First, I examine whether changes in program quality over time differ in states with QRIS that emphasize the quality of children’s day-to-day experiences (i.e. process quality) relative to states with systems that focus on structural classroom characteristics (i.e. structural quality). Second, I examine whether states with QRIS systems that provide different levels of quality improvement supports (e.g. dosage of on-site coaching, and the provision of financial awards tied to quality ratings) demonstrate differential changes in Head Start program quality over time. Preliminary findings suggest QRIS adoption did not lead to overall improvements in program quality, although changes may have been larger in states with systems emphasizing process quality measures. The study is ongoing; preliminary results are discussed.