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Quality in early childhood education–bean counting or best practice?

July 25, 2011

Quality in early education and childcare is indisputably important. Some regulation of these facilities is essential in order to ensure safe and enriching environments for young children, whether they are based in a home, community-based site, or school setting.  However, there is a point where regulation can become a mishmash of silly mandates and hoops to jump through, if not an outright intrusion on educator practices.  Colorado’s Early Childcare Division in its Department of Human Services has proposed changes in its Rules and Regulations to enable providers to obtain a license.  This 98 page document, still in draft form, is definitely drawing attention.  However, it has some people questioning the apparent fussiness of some of its parameters, and certain others worried about practicalities and costs of the proposals.  Cost of compliance with new regulations may force some smaller care-providers out of business, as well as raise fees for parents who can ill afford further strains on their budgets.  On the other hand, it does have people discussing the meaning of quality in early education, and maybe the current attention, even if negative,  is better than the dismissive attitude many  seem hold when it comes to preschool programs.

I looked through the document. At first glance, the 8 pages of definitions are daunting, perhaps even a bit insulting, such as the following sentence: “CLEAN” MEANS TO BE FREE OF VISIBLE DIRT OR DEBRIS OR TO REMOVE DIRT BY VACUUMING OR SCRUBBING AND WASHING WITH SOAP AND WATER. Okay, thanks for that, I guess. There’s also a definition for “INTOXICATED”, a troubling inclusion.  The proposal addresses a number of other topics that I can’t imagine being of concern for me, such as how exactly to prevent children from second-hand smoke during the school/care day, and a exhortation that children should not knowingly be left to sleep in beds wet with urine.  While it seems incredible,  it’s possible that some people working in licensed facilities don’t already know these things. (Albeit really, and truly, disturbing.)

A number of the recommendations seemed to come from the ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale) and its infant-toddler counterpart the ITERS,  which are used throughout the country to rate multiple aspects of a program’s quality.  These scales  help to provide guidelines on health, safety, quality of social interactions and of learning environment, all using detailed rubrics.  Many Colorado facilities currently participate in a rating process on these indicators (through an agency called Qualistar) and therefore have more than a passing acquaintance with either ECERS or ITERS.  It would be fair to say that sometimes ECE providers and caregivers view certain aspects of these meticulous scales (and the Qualistar raters) with a jaundiced eye.  Perfection is difficult to obtain, often due to factors we can’t control (such as, say,  features of our buildings or our students’ attentiveness to hand-washing) and we find ourselves doing the best we can.  Sometimes attention to fulfill one area of the ECERS/Qualistar rating can detract from another of our priorities and so we may find ourselves weighing them and being selective with our battles.

Like the ECERS, the Colorado proposal includes recommendations on materials we should have on hand in classrooms–such as how many books to have per child, and what types of blocks are appropriate, and which art materials a center should provide.   We are asked to consider how and where the children use the materials and are measured on how we facilitate their use. There are also proposals on materials promoting diversity.  It seems a bit silly to be told that my attention to diversity may be determined by whether or not I have images or toys representing a broad range of human differences among my materials (which, by the way, I do).  I am, as a rule, generally dubious of the value of appearances over well-considered actions. A classroom can display pictures or have the recommended number of books or dolls representing at least three different ethnic groups and people with disabilities without providing in-depth conversations or lessons demonstrating that we are aware of and appreciate human diversity and strive to share these values with our students.  I find it more meaningful to have the conversations, with or without the window-dressing.  I am certain that there are plenty of things that I do with my students that a person might not be able to observe during a one-day visit to my room yet I trust that one can see that I am striving to provide quality instruction.

Still, I felt unsettled by the Colorado proposals and spoke with some other local early educators to address my conflicting emotions.  On the surface there is reason for concern regarding a tendency toward micromanaging as well as an effect on cost to providers and families. However, one of my friends and former colleagues  has had experience observing  numerous  in-home and community site childcare facilities and she told me that she has seen some really worrisome examples of  licensed facilities with ample room for improvement in both safety and quality of instruction.  So while I initially scoffed at some of the proposed items, I found myself seriously considering a series of questions that this friend rhetorically posed. What kind of care is ‘good enough’?  And shouldn’t ‘good enough’ really demonstrate some measure of quality?  I considered as well that many children of lower income backgrounds will be spending long days in settings that are state-licensed. And given the correlation found between levels of family income and school readiness, it makes sense to ensure that kids who are potentially at risk have the best possible early childhood educational experiences. However, from what I understand, there are plenty of sites currently holding licenses that don’t demonstrate a firm grasp on the concept of best practices. The conundrum, therefore, is addressing very necessary issues of quality in childcare and Early Childhood Education and balancing them with what is sensible, realistic and what is cost-effective for parents and childcare providers in a stressed economy.  Can we find a way to do that in less than 98 pages?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2011 6:30 am

    The things that concerns me with regulations is that it always ends up taking the fun out of early childhood education too. Regulations, it seems, are written for the worst possible case scenario which leaves teachers who are conscientious having to follow ridiculous mandates that are clearly intended for folks who probably know nothing about early childhood education in the first place. My belief is that more money should be spent on education of teachers and parents and less on drawing up 98 pages worth of regulations.

  2. July 27, 2011 10:24 pm

    My initial reaction to these was something like yours: I couldn’t believe that there needed to be regulations about, say, making an effort to keep kids from sleeping in wet sheets. It’s hard, because I’m leery of how lock-step and confining standards can be.

    What’s really sticking with me is what critics keep bringing up: the proposals about providing cultural diversity and relevance in materials. I agree with you that you can have all the multicultural materials you want and an intolerant, blind classroom. I just think it’s telling that this is the regulation that sticks in the craw of so many critics, many of whom do not have children and do not live in Colorado.

    • mariasallee permalink*
      July 28, 2011 8:42 am

      @E. Rat Yes, it is very interesting that the 3 or more ethnicities represented through dolls is what the Denver Post (and other sorts) seem to be talking about the most and it’s somehow become a of symbol the micromanaging aspects of the proposals. Why aren’t they talking about, say, how many books per kid, recommended number & types of blocks, or any of the other things that a center might not have readily at hand?

  3. October 19, 2012 6:07 pm

    A great site to help get your child reading early by a certified reading specialist and veteran teacher.

  4. John Young permalink
    November 27, 2012 8:15 pm

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  5. September 12, 2014 8:00 pm

    When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new
    comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment.
    There has to be an easy method you can remove
    me from that service? Cheers!

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  1. To micromanage, or not to micromanage, that is the question | Friends of Education

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