Improving Child Care Quality? Insights into State and Federal ECE Accountability Systems
(Family and Child Policy)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Large public investments in early education programs along with increasing enrollment numbers (Chaudry & Datta, 2017; Friedman-Krauss et al., 2018) underscore the importance of government efforts to help children in early care and education (ECE) settings reach their fullest potential. When effective, ECE programs can improve children’s readiness for kindergarten (Phillips et al., 2017) and promote positive lifelong outcomes, including higher postsecondary attainment, increased adult wages, and better long-term health (Dynarski, Hyman, & Schanzenbach, 2013; Heckman, 2006; Ludwig & Miller, 2007; Thompson, 2017). Yet ECE quality is historically low, and there are documented gaps in effectiveness across different types of programs and between individual ECE providers (Bassok, Fitzpatrick, Greenberg, & Loeb, 2016; Bloom & Weiland, 2015; Greenberg, Healy, & Derrick-Mills, 2018; Morris et al., 2018; Wong, Cook, Barnett, & Jung, 2008).
In an effort to regulate program quality and as a response to Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grants, almost every state now has a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). At the federal level, the Head Start Designation Renewal System (DRS) now links programs’ continued funding to quality evaluations. The scale of these improvement and accountability systems is unprecedented in early education, and evidence on their impacts is only beginning to unfold. This panel brings together research at the classroom, state, and national levels to inform early childhood education policy researchers about the intended and unintended consequences of these early education accountability systems.
Using growth curve analysis, the first study examines classroom-level changes in observed quality, as measured by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASSTM), throughout the academic year. The authors then consider the propensity for programs to be misclassified under ECE accountability policies due to CLASSTM score growth and variability, highlighting ways evaluation systems that rely on such measures might be improved. The second paper takes the analysis to the state level. It examines how state-level policy supports (among other types of supports), notably QRIS systems, can promote or hinder professional development uptake amongst early childhood educators and administrators, and how that varies by the urban/rural continuum. The third study takes a national perspective, with a 50-state descriptive analysis of standards, curricula, and assessment policies in early childhood education. The authors examine variation in state QRISs and assess the extent to which multiple early learning systems in each state are aligned and are thus reinforced, or exist in silos.