Top concerns about Common Core State Standards in early childhood education

March 26, 2015

There’s been lots of discussion about the Common Core State Standards recently, and their impact on classroom activity and child outcomes. Common Core is a major policy initiative to reform K-12 classroom practices, raise expectations and implement a new generation of assessments (at least in grades 3 and up), so it has major implications for Kindergarten-3rd grade (and early childhood education) teachers, children, and parents. It must be examined critically and debated. As we know, even if the policy is sound, implementation matters.

children in classA recurring concern is that the Common Core State Standards were developed from the top-down (setting standards for 12th graders first, and then working backwards to set expectations for the lower grades, failing to take sufficient account of research-based learning progressions for children from birth-age 5. A related issue: Some feel there was insufficient involvement of early childhood research experts in language, literacy, mathematics, and child development in the standards development process.

Over the next few weeks, we plan to have experts comment on the top concerns and issues we’ve heard about CCSS.

  • Rigorous standards may lead to reduced play and rich activity in preschool and Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching.
  • The standards are complex and extensive, and there is little guidance for teachers to implement them in Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Parents don’t understand the CCSS and are concerned about what they mean for their children.
  • The Kindergarten standards for literacy are not appropriate for children that age.
  • Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.
  • Alignment with K-12 standards will mean teaching methods, subjects, and assessments that are not developmentally appropriate will be pushed down to preschool levels.
  • Math standards will be too challenging for young children.

We welcome your participation as well. Please comment and weigh in on the concerns and our experts’ responses.


Developing P-3 Guidelines in New Jersey: Collaboration and Communication

March 24, 2015

The Center for Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes is committed to building the capacity of state early education administrators to advance the state’s goals for children. This year CEELO is focusing specifically on the theme, Leading for Excellence in Early Childhood Education. 

As part of an ongoing series of interviews with leaders in early childhood education, CEELO spoke with Vincent CostanzaExecutive Director, Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge at the New Jersey Department of Education, about the process of developing guidelines for Preschool-to-Grade 3 program implementation and best practice in New Jersey. They will provide guidance to school districts, private providers, and local Head Start agencies on planning and implementing high-quality programs for children, with alignment through the early elementary grades, and with NJ Teaching and Learning Standards.

Can you briefly discuss the P-3 guidelines and the timeline for developing them in NJ?

Initially the Division of Early Childhood was very focused on the implementation of Abbott preschool—that was the charge of the office. We developed preschool guidelines, and they were fantastic and outlined best practices in the preschool world.

But around 2011 there was some discussion that there was nothing like the preschool guidelines for Kindergarten, so we developed them then. Ironically, the same discussion came up and people said we don’t have them for first to third grade either—and there were not great examples around the country. With the award of the Early Learning Challenge Grant, we leveraged the funds to develop first-to-third-grade guidelines.

How are the guidelines a part of the larger P-3 systems building picture, and how has the process developed?

Yearbook set 6

We have a partnership with NIEER and with the Rutgers GSE, and we have a draft of guidelines already. Year 1 of the grant was mostly about entering an MOU with higher education groups to draft the guidelines, and identifying partners.

We didn’t have the personnel in the office to do the work in a timely fashion.

Now the guidelines are out for expert review, and being reviewed by focus groups throughout the state.

What role has the state played in leading implementation of the guidelines?

The state has distributed the draft guidelines to practitioners; teachers from first to third grade; and administrators, for review and feedback on the usability of the guidelines. We want something that say the things that need to be said and aren’t currently being said; that conceptualize academic rigor and developmentally appropriate practice and show what it would look like. It’s not like the 1st thru 3rd grade guidelines could be 300 pages (triple the size of the K guidelines, because there are three grades), because people wouldn’t read them.

The review process will go through the remainder of the [school] year and be finalized in September.

What kinds of meetings, tools, technology, have been provided for districts, school, and teachers working on or with the guidelines?

There will be workshop modules, and training. The guidelines will be available on the website; and there is a communications plan around that. The DOE, and contacts at NIEER and the Rutgers GSE have put out applications to get on the presentation circuit.

There have been a lot of requests to see the guidelines from the State specialist listserv as well. People want to do this in other states and see how we are approaching it.

Has there been any work on K-12 Alignment?

We’re not really working on 3+ alignment yet. There are governance issues: people are talking about Birth-to-8 systems, but the reality is there haven’t been that many people who have been involved in it. Teachers and administrators in early education struggle with teacher evaluation and growth objectives, for example.

We’re now working with the teacher evaluation office, in a collaborative effort, working together to put together good examples. The evaluation office has been great. We have been aware of needing to collaborate, to know the right people, on the right issues. You have to really be focused on the issues that the field is struggling with. The teacher evaluation struggles have motivated us to have answers in these areas, and in order to have answers we have to work collaboratively within the DOE. We’re doing the same in the areas of social-emotional learning, as the department considers how to development K-12 supports in this area.

How are districts and teachers supporting the work?

For the teachers and districts: working with NIEER and the Rutgers GSE has helped to legitimize the work. People at the Department don’t know everything there is to know; so it adds a lot of legitimacy to work with higher ed.

Even before the Early Learning Challenge funds we had a guidelines work group: 50 educators, superintendents, first-grade teachers, people in higher education. They helped to put together a draft outline of what to include, what they need to hear.

Teachers and districts have been very receptive and interested. The focus groups want more state involvement. They appreciate the supports, concrete examples, expertise. They want to keep doing more of what they’re doing. Not only is the field supportive, they want much more engagement. Therefore we do need people who are in the bus and foot on the pedal to get the work done.

Teachers and administrators are excited about it too.

Has the Early Childhood Academy been involved in this project at all? If so, can you discuss how?

The Early Learning Academy participants (5 New Jersey districts engaged in leadership development activities)—have received copies of the guidelines. We’ve solicited feedback and comments; some have provided feedback. In April, Sharon Ritchie will be presenting; there is lots of correlation, so it will be a topic.

What advice would you give to other states wanting to implement this kind of project?

Looking outside of the department has been a very important aspect for us; for legitimizing the work, and getting it done in a timely fashion. For Kindergarten this took 18 months; for this draft, the focus groups, and expert review have happened within 6 months. Get some friends.

Really appreciate the issue of having people that are just going to own it. I’m not making an argument for silos, but there are times when maybe we over-learn it, and some compartmentalization may be good, devoting someones’s full attention to it.

Involve stakeholders. What’s different about the early childhood guidelines is to reach stakeholders and really involve them. Year 1 of the Kindergarten Entry Assessment is another example; we have people who can’t wait to sign on to them.

Can states move forward effectively on this without the kind of funding you have with the challenge grant?

We were set to move forward with this before we got the grant. It’s hard to imagine the quality and timeliness would be the same.

How has CEELO (if at all) been involved in developing/enhancing this work?

CEELO has been involved through the extension of the Academy, which they support , and with things like the teacher evaluation brief, our first-third grade guidelines, helping to put the issues on the radar that need to be in early elementary guidelines.

Are there any other resources you would like to highlight for your state or other states?

No other resources in early elementary, but our teacher evaluation document, developed in early childhood, has been timely as far as ‘here’s the issue people are dealing with.’

Also the KEA work; the work of first-third-grade guidelines will be informed with approaches we have going on with KEA. Nationally it’s talked about as if K has a monopoly on talking about children are doing at the beginning of the year, but that could expand to second and third grade as well.

–Kirsty Clarke Brown, NIEER & CEELO, Research and Policy Advisor


Young immigrants and dual language learners: Participation in pre-K and Kindergarten entry gaps

February 18, 2015

In a recent webinar, NIEER discussed what it means to be Hispanic and a DLL (a dual language learner) or Hispanic and come from a home with immigrant parents. We showed that Hispanic children, DLLs, and children with an immigrant background have lower rates of participation in center-based care (including Head Start) pre-K programs than White non-Hispanic children. We considered the impacts on enrollment of home language and of varied immigrant backgrounds, which make this group quite heterogeneous. We found that enrollment rates do show that while non-DLL Hispanics and Native Hispanics had enrollment rates above 60 percent, much like White children, about 45-50 percent of DLLs and Immigrant background Hispanics were enrolled in center-based care.

Pre-K participation of Hispanics in center-based care

That is, only one in two DLL Hispanics or Immigrant Hispanics attend a center-based program. This suggests that aspects of language and immigration status are likely defining why children participate.

We then wondered about similarities between these enrollment patterns and kindergarten entry gaps. Using Whites as the group of reference, it turns out that Hispanic DLLs and Hispanic immigrant children have very large performance gaps in reading, math, and language. These two groups pretty much drive the overall Hispanic gaps observed at kindergarten. What about Hispanic children who are both DLL and of immigrant background? Hispanic DLL children from an immigrant background show very large performance gaps, unlike Native-born English-speaking Hispanics, who fare quite well relative to Whites. It appears we are failing this group.

Kindergarten gaps for Hispanic students, math, reading, and language

Patterns are somewhat different when we look at socio-emotional developmental gaps. These do not resemble those for reading, math, and language. On the contrary, while most Hispanics differ little from Whites in terms of approaches to learning, self-control, or problems with externalizing and internalizing behaviors , Hispanic DLL children who are Native-born show large gaps across all of these domains except for internalizing behaviors.

Kindergarten gaps for Hispanic children, social-emotional skills

Putting this all together, clearly policy makers should focus on increasing access, outreach, and participation in high-quality early education for any and all Hispanic children, but especially for Hispanic DLL children and children whose parents are immigrants. Moeover, policy makers and practitioners both should recognize how diverse Hispanics are as a group, and how the needs of DLL Hispanic children differ depending on their family histories .

Addressing these issues in early care and education begins with obtaining a better understanding who our children are and who are we serving (and not serving), including:

  • screening language abilities
  • developing guidelines and standards that address the needs of these groups
  • promoting the proliferation of bilingual programs
  • and, planning ways to engage and effectively work with diverse groups of Hispanic children.

How well we do this in the first years of their lives will have important consequences for their developmental pathways and their opportunities, and this will be reflected in the our society 15-20 years from now.

–Milagros Nores, PhD, Associate Director of Research


Will FY2016 be the year for children? Or déjà vu?

February 4, 2015

In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted several initiatives meant to simplify child care for America families. The White House’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016, released on Monday, provides further insight into the costs and details of these programs as well as additional areas of focus within the early childhood world.

FY2016 budget table

Early childhood education is often referred to as a “patchwork” system in reference to the number of public and private stakeholders–with varying program requirements and goals–who are involved, and the federal budget is no exception. Several departments have larger programs that operate projects in early childhood education. The Department of Education oversees Special Education Preschool Grants and houses the current Preschool Development Grants program, as well as the President’s proposed Preschool for All program. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also collaborates on the Preschool Development Grants program. HHS oversees Head Start, child care, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV). The President has also proposed expanding the current tax benefits for families paying for child care–a complex change to tax policy which would not be covered by either department as it is not itself a program.

Much of what the White House is proposing in this budget has been seen before. The Preschool for All program is similar to the version proposed in the FY 2014 budget, and the Preschool Development Grants seek to distribute funds to more states than those already awarded grants in FY 2015. A review of budget documents from the Education and HHS departments does reveal some suggested changes:

  • Special Education Preschool Grants would include appropriations language that would allow LEAs to expand the age range of eligible children to include children ages 3 through 5, as well as requesting a waiver of some reporting requirements for LEAs that exercise this flexibility.
  • Head Start requested an additional $1.1 billion to expand service to full-day and school-year calendars. There is also $150 million for Early Head Start and EHS-Child Care partnerships as well as $284 to help existing programs offset rising costs.
  • Child Care: In the requested increase, there is a proposed $266 million to implement the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. There’s also a requested $100 million for Child Care Pilots for Working Families, which would test and evaluate models for working families, including those who work nontraditional hours. The administration has also introduced a 10-year, $82 billion plan for mandatory funding for the Child Care and Development Fund, to ensure that all low-income working families with children ages three or younger have access to quality, affordable child care.
  • An expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) up to $3,000 per child would triple the maximum credit for families with children under age five and makes the full CDCTC available to families with incomes of up to $120,000. While this credit is largely discussed as a way to help parents pay for the care of their young children, it can also be used for older children and dependents who are elderly or have disabilities.

The Obama administration has touted this budget as crucial to progress for the middle class. These proposals focused on the early years on life would fill major gaps in service for many of America’s children–children in low-income families who do not have quality care while their parents work; children whose families feel the “middle class squeeze” and could greatly benefit from the increased CDCTC; children with special needs for whom quality early intervention services can make a world of difference. However, two essential questions should be asked about each element of the proposal. First, is it designed in such a way that it will significantly improve the quality of children’s early educational experiences? Much of the potential benefit to children and society depends on the answer. Second, what is the potential for passage?  Without support across the aisle, as well as at the state level, these proposals will remain just proposals. Recent experience suggests that, at least for education, proposals designed to help every child will be better received than those that exclude the families expected to pay for them.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator


Annie Rooney French on Early Learning Leadership Networks in Kentucky

December 23, 2014

CEELO logoAs part of a planned series of conversations on CEELO’s theme of Leading for Excellence in Early Childhood, CEELO staff member Kirsty Clarke Brown talked with Annie Rooney French Ph.D., Preschool Consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education. She described the Early Learning Leadership Networks in that state, and how they are integral to promoting early childhood program development.

Can you describe the Early Learning Leadership Networks and how they were started?

The Early Learning Leadership Networks were an extension of the K-12 Leadership Networks promulgated by Senate Bill 1 (2009), in the area of professional learning and support. The Leadership Networks (K-12) Kentucky’s Leadership Networks (K-12) are designed to build the capacity of district leadership teams (3-4 teacher leaders in each content area, 3-4 school leaders, 3-4 district level leaders) to implement new standards within the context of highly effective teaching, learning, and assessment practices. They are designed to ensure that each district has a core team that can scale implementation effectively districtwide. The Early Learning Leadership Networks (ELLNs) began in the fall of 2010. Each district was asked to assemble an early childhood teacher-leader team of up to four people. The teams includes a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, Head Start teacher, child care provider, and/or possibly the preschool director. The four main “pillars” of focus included the Standards (Pre-K and K), Assessment Literacy, Teacher Leadership and Highly Effective Teaching and Learning. The team members developed their own leadership skills and brought back knowledge about each of the pillars. There were four meetings a year. Meeting targets or objectives were developed by a state team, consisting of five regional teams. The facilitators for each of the five regional teams included consultants from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), consultants from the Regional Training Centers (RTCs), and higher education faculty. The state team held a retreat each summer to reflect upon practice and plan for the upcoming year. They continued to plan together during the school year at least once a month.

What topics they have addressed since their start?

In the first year, the principal focus was on mathematics, including alignment of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for kindergarten with Kentucky’s Early Childhood Standards for 3- and 4-year olds. In the second year, ELLN teams developed their own competencies with the English Language Arts standards, as well as practiced using the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO) tool to measure literacy practices. The process of building ELA capacity continued into the third year. During the second half of the third year, teams focused on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including the conceptual shifts in science education leading to a deeper understanding and application of content, and the corresponding Kentucky early childhood science standard. Now that we’re in the fourth year, we decided to step back and allow the teachers to refine the knowledge they gained during the first three years and develop integrated units of studies using all the content areas in meeting the needs and interests of their children. Year four is also focused on the state’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), a new approach to measuring teacher and leader effectiveness, ensuring every child is taught by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Preschool teachers and leaders play an integral part in PGES, and ELLN teams received guidance to support the developmentally appropriate implementation of the Danielson Framework for Teaching, including examining how early childhood fits within the framework.

From the beginning, ELLN facilitators have supported teachers with developing their own leadership abilities. Our guidance for that work was the book, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009).

In the area of assessments, teachers worked on integrating the assessment instruments into the teaching and learning process, becoming aware of the connections to the standards, and ensuring individualization to meet student needs.

 What was your role in facilitating the groups?

I am currently facilitating the statewide process for the ELLNs. During a two day retreat in the late spring, we plan the entire year. Then we meet monthly to plan the upcoming sessions and review the previous session, including reviewing evaluations and making adjustments based on participant feedback. We spend long periods of time in discussions about the agenda and how to best help the teachers examine their practices and create a community of learners. Our goal is to share the same content, but since each region is different, each of the RTC teams have the flexibility to adapt a bit, based on their population and needs. Basically, my role as a facilitator is to ensure that we keep on task and accomplish what we set out to do. We work well together.

What kinds of meetings do people attend? And  what tools or technology is used to connect group members? Is there a group website or forum for exchange, for example, or are all meetings in person?

The ELLN process is a departure from previous approaches to training, including the train-the-trainer model. Building on current professional learning research and the work of Learning Forward, we’ve moved away from isolated professional development activities toward a well-designed professional learning program that changes teaching and learning practices. We’re working on developing teacher leaders. The RTCs keep in contact with the teacher leaders through e-mails and other trainings throughout the year. Also, since the RTCs provide technical assistance and conduct the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Revised (ECERS-R) in their region as part of the Preschool Program Review (P2R), they spend a great deal of time in the classrooms of these teachers.

The meetings have been face-to-face. The numbers range from 50-140 attendees in each of the five regions. Kentucky has a communication and technological system in place the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS), which is a “one-stop shop” for technological connections for the entire commonwealth. For example in PGES, the CIITS Educator Development Suite (EDS) serves as the technology platform for entering professional growth plans for each teacher. It is also a place where teachers may share lesson plans, videos and have access to a wealth of resources including Edivation formerly called PD360, an online, on-demand professional learning resource. One of our goals for the fourth ELLN year is to augment the postings of early childhood education materials.

What kind of support does the state provide to enhance the work of the ELLNs? How are districts and teachers supporting the work?

The Kentucky Department of Education provides funding to the RTCs for ELLN planning and curriculum development activities. This covers a stipend for the university faculty, rent for the facilities, books and resources for ELLN teams. The districts provide leave time for ELLN team members and substitute teachers to cover classrooms if necessary.

Do the administrator strand and teacher strand overlap or connect with each other at all?

The administrator strand of ELLN meets two times a year, in the fall and the spring. During the fall meeting, the administrators receive an overview of what to expect during the upcoming year, so that they can communicate effectively with teacher-leaders to ensure teams are making an impact. The administrator ELLN meetings occur before the first teacher ELLN day so that the administrators know what to expect. Based on action plans that have been successfully implemented, we found that some of the most effective teams were those whose administrator was a member of the ELLN team that met four times a year. Also, other successful teams were invited by the administrator to share their knowledge with the other educators in their district.

You have said that ‘using data to guide instruction’ was a strong outcome from the groups; can you talk about that a bit more? How did you encourage that, and what signs are there that it using data has been enhanced?

ELLN teachers are asked to bring data results of their students from the instructional assessment tool given at the beginning of the year. They are given time to look at the results either individually or as teams, and come up with the next steps to improve teaching, learning and assessment practices. This process also includes looking at the standards to determine the focus areas and knowledge of the next stages of development and/or achievement. Evidence of this may be found in lesson plans where teachers are including more individualization and small groups working on areas of development. Also we see increased evidence of teachers taking anecdotal notes in the classroom and using this knowledge to guide instruction. We have come a long way from setting up the environment and letting the children explore and discover. We still have strong developmentally appropriate practices, but now we are seeing more evidence of high quality teacher/child interactions that encourages deeper thinking and language skills.

You have also said that relationships are an outcome. Can you talk about how that happens and why it is important to the state work?

One of the major outcomes of these meetings was allowing the teachers time to engage in discussions about their work. We would schedule times during the ELLNs when teachers would share their assessment results and discuss the next steps with their team or the team from another district. Another important relationship that developed was the connection between the kindergarten and preschool teachers. This is something that was not present before the ELLNs.

What advice would you give to other states wanting to implement this kind of group?

The number one advice is to plan strategically. Teachers are very busy and they want relevant professional learning. In planning strategically, look at the big picture. Plan big and then make adjustments as you proceed. Understand the culture of the teachers in their settings and work with administrators to support their teachers. One of the major outcomes is improved connections between and among teachers. Also, the kindergarten teachers really liked being grouped together to discuss their unique issues. Finally, be patient. These improvements take time.

How has CEELO (if at all) been involved in developing/enhancing the work of the ELLNs?

CEELO connected me with the New Jersey consultants who are engaging in similar work.

During the June CEELO meeting last year, help was offered in the form of connecting to other states who are also working on the Danielson Framework with early childhood. Continued support in that area would be most appreciated.

How could CEELO be helpful?

CEELO could help us with research-based materials, examples of successful programs that have implemented similar programs, suggestions of speakers who would be able to present at our yearly conference in June, possible trainings for our facilitators, websites, and anything else you think would be helpful.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

You can find the latest information on our Early Learning Leadership Networks at this website.

Are there any other resources you would like to highlight for your state or other states?

New resources are planned for this site including an overview of the process, examples of action plans, Pre-K/Kindergarten connections, teacher leadership and others.


Early Education Has Its Day

December 11, 2014

Yesterday, the White House hosted its first Summit on Early Childhood Education. The Summit brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, including local government officials; private philanthropy; researchers; federal government officials; and business leaders. The President’s remarks can be seen here. The event also launched the InvestInUs campaign, administered by the First Five Years Fund to encourage private-public investment in a range of early childhood activities. The campaign released a profile of major private commitments, as well as highlighting notable “early learning communities” that may serve as models for other communities. The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a new report, The Economics of Early Childhood Investments, which examined the benefits of a wide range of early childhood education programs, from home visiting to kindergarten. A recap of the ongoing Twitter conversation can be seen here.

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services also made major announcements aligned with the Summit. Eighteen states were announced as winners of competitive federal Preschool Development and Expansion Grants. Grant winners are displayed in Figure 1, with amounts in Figure 2.

Image Source: Department and Health and Human Services & Department of Education. (2014). What are preschool development grants? http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/pdgfactsheet.pdf

Image Source: Department and Health and Human Services & Department of Education. (2014). What are preschool development grants? http://www2.ed.gov/programs/preschooldevelopmentgrants/pdgfactsheet.pdf

Development grants are for states with no or small state-funded pre-K programs, while expansion grants are for those states with established programs to improve quality and increase access. More information on the current preschool offerings of these states is available here. The Departments estimate that this $226 million investment will expand services to more than 33,000 additional children in the first year alone and ensure that children are experiencing preschool of high quality. The Department has released score sheets and applications for winners and for those who did not receive funding.

The Department of Health and Human Services also announced preliminary grantees for their Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships. The program, which works with existing child care settings to expand access for infants and toddlers to high-quality care, will provide $435 million in funding to 234 grantees. The Department noted that it is still in negotiation with the agencies they’ve announced, and that the award amounts may be subject to change. The full allocation of $500 million will be awarded by the end of March 2015.

All told, this week’s announcements are adding new federal funds for early childhood education to 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Mariana Islands, and will serve an estimated 63,000 additional children. While state education departments and others who have worked hard on these applications are surely enjoying well-deserved celebrations, the greatest challenge may be on the horizon: implementing the plans and working toward the goal of expanding quality early education.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER/CEELO


The second “I” in QRIS

November 24, 2014

NAEYC03_SquiresAs quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS, QRS, and Tiered QRIS) take hold across states with support from federal agencies via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge’s high-quality, accountable programs and Preschool Development Grant opportunities, the “system of systems” still remains under quiet scrutiny and undergoes continuous improvement itself. This is particularly true to better serve children with special needs and their families.

The intention of QRIS is to encourage a combination of inputs assumed to yield improved results for children, and provide the basis for distributing quality- or effort-based financial incentives to cash-strapped providers. A QRIS is often seen as an alternative to a more expensive, all-or-nothing quality designation through accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or similar organizations. It also seeks to develop internal commitment by programs to continuous quality improvement, rather than building an externally forced scheme with underfunded mandates–a carrot rather than a stick approach. Most important, QRIS was predicated on the premise that as quality of services improved, children and families would be the primary beneficiaries.

Yet QRIS systems are not without questions or concerns. In “Assessing QRIS as a Change Agent (forthcoming special issue of Early Childhood Research Quarterly),” Stacie Goffin and W. Steven Barnett cite the paucity of empirical evidence to substantiate QRIS as an effective tool for improving program quality and child outcomes, and the field is playing “catch-up” with policy and practice to demonstrate QRIS’ validity and efficacy. Uneven buy-in to QRIS results from inconsistent standar
ds criteria and scoring rubrics across state systems; an emphasis on compliance-oriented inputs; insufficient attention to child outcome data; and uneven participation of stakeholders in QRIS design, including parents and public schools. The closing commentary in the special issue by Kim Boller and Kelly Maxwell raises several issues based on the research reviewed, including the lack of a national QRIS picture and implications for future research to address current gaps in understanding.

One of the most compelling arguments for establishing a QRIS is to provide parents seeking early childhood services with an easy, trustworthy method for identifying a quality program; a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” of sorts. Finding a space in a high quality program is tough enough for most families; quality often competes with other factors influencing parental choice, such as location, program schedule, and cost. This difficulty is exacerbated for hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities. There is a golden opportunity for QRIS to assist all parents in making informed decisions about where and with whom their young children should spend their days away from home, particularly children with special needs.

As reported in a new CEELO FastFact reviewing 42 state QRIS systems, 20 states make some provisions for children with special needs. Many provisions reflect open enrollment policies and collaborative relationships with outside professionals to deliver or reinforce specialized services. Seldom do QRIS criteria reflect specialized staff knowledge, qualifications, or skills to address inclusion deeply, and often opportunities to incorporate elements of DEC/CEC’s Recommended Practices such as instruction, environment, interaction, and family are missed.

Several states are making headway in this area. In Georgia’s Bright from the Start: Department of Early Care and Learning, the Quality Rated system eventually plans programs to attach a designation of “I” (for inclusion) indicating it meets additional criteria for effectively serving children with disabilities. One such requirement is successfully completing the Inclusive Classroom Profile (ICP), a rating scale developed at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute specifically measuring inclusion, with results verified during an unannounced visit by a regional inclusion coordinator. As the first state to offer universal pre-K, Georgia is again demonstrating leadership in early education.

ExceleRate Illinois also stands out for its plans to establish an Award of Excellence (AOE) dedicated to Inclusion of Children with Special Needs. Comprehensive indicators in the accompanying Illinois Inclusion Guidelines Checklist enable programs to conduct a self-assessment to prepare for peer review and on-site verification. This designation will allow parents to identify programs taking inclusion to a higher standard of quality. Parents will be able to contact their Resource and Referral agency to easily locate a program well-suited to their child’s abilities and needs.

Other states are also considering inclusion in their QRIS designs, utilizing the leadership and resources of the National Early Childhood Inclusion Institute, Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance Center, BUILD Initiative, QRIS National Learning Network, and CEELO. The recently launched online QRIS Compendium, developed by BUILD and Child Trends, provides an excellent searchable database for strengthening QRIS.

QRIS designs are evolving quickly in the spirit of continuous improvement, and in response to emerging research. Inclusion is an important component of a quality early education program, and should be recognized in a meaningful, visible way for parents and providers. Adding a second “I” to QRIS represents an opportunity to demonstrate that high quality programs serving “all children” really means all children- no exceptions, no excuses.

–Jim Squires, NIEER/CEELO Research Fellow


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