PPN Home > Expert Perspectives > Child Care Quality

Expert Perspectives

Child Policy Experts Answer Your Questions about Child Care Quality

Children in child care program

What does research tell us about child care quality?

Improving child care quality has been a priority for policymakers over the last decade, and child care quality rating systems (QRS) have proliferated across the country. However, several studies released in 2008 find little evidence that the ratings reported by these systems are associated with measures of children's well-being. As such, the evidence raises questions about the reliability of these systems to accurately measure the quality of child care services. Reliable systems of measurement are necessary in order to design and appropriately target quality improvement initiatives. This Expert Perspectives feature gave PPN visitors the opportunity to ask leading child policy experts their questions on the topic of child care quality and methods used to measure child care quality.

See the questions and answers below.

For more related information, see the video of our Child Care Quality Policy Forum for further discussions by some of the experts featured on this page, or see the More About this Topic section near the bottom of this page for additional resources.

About the Experts

Margaret Burchinal Diane Early Gail Zellman
Margaret Burchinal, PhD
Senior Scientist
FPG Child Development Institute
University of North Carolina
About this expert
Diane Early, PhD
Research Associate
Clinical and Social Psychology Department
University of Rochester
About this expert
Gail Zellman, PhD
Senior Research Psychologist
RAND Corporation
About this expert

Review and Commentary

The Scientific Reviewer of this content has provided additional information on this topic.

Vi-Nhuan Le

Vi-Nhuan Le, PhD
Behavioral Scientist
RAND Corporation
About this reviewer

Question Topics

Below is a list of the question topics that were submitted to our experts. Follow the links below to read a particular question and answer, or scroll down the page to read them all.

What is the relationship between child care quality and the education and training of the provider?

How will a rating system be developed that fairly rates FCC programs that do not currently require teachers to have a college degree?

Should there be limits on the amount of time children spend in child care?

What strategies to rate and improve quality have proven successful?

Are there any rating systems that are thought to be more reliable than others?

Are there existing child care quality standards that states or other entities could adopt rather than developing their own?

What is the role of parents' views and goals in defining child care quality?

Can you identify individual items/factors that can be measured/rated where improving that improves child outcomes?

Does a rating system need to have increasing monetary incentives, more quality "stars," more $, in order to work?

Are there reliable, valid measures of cultural relevancy that can be used in rating systems?

Why evaluate a Quality Rating Improvement System (QRS) as if it were a structured early childhood education program?

What ratings approaches are not too cumbersome for programs that will encompass broad notions of quality?

How essential is it that measures of quality are captured through on-site observation?

Do the measurement tools or standards need to vary by program type?

Questions and Answers

What is the relationship between child care quality and (1) the level of education of the child care provider (e.g., does a person with a bachelor's degree provide better quality care than a person with an associate's degree, and an associate's degree better than no college degree?); and between child care quality and (2) the type or quality of training the provider has received? If education and training both are important, which is the most important when resources are limited?

Diane Early: Whereas there are some older studies indicating that teachers with higher education levels had higher-quality classrooms, most recent studies with better research designs find no association between teacher education and either classroom quality or children's academic skills, after controlling for other variables known to influence quality and child outcomes [1]. Maybe this lack of association should not surprise us given that teacher preparation programs vary enormously in quality and content, that state certification requirements vary by state, and that child care programs vary with regard to how much support they provide teachers to implement high-quality environments.

This lack of association should not be taken to mean that higher teacher education cannot increase classroom quality. Rather, it indicates that simple policy recommendations that aim to improve quality solely by increasing teacher education are unlikely to be effective. Instead of focusing solely on teachers' educational attainment, we should address teacher quality by considering what teachers know, are able to do, and how they behave in the classroom. Of course, this type of quality-improvement strategy is more complicated and costly to implement than simply relying on the teachers' degrees, but current research seems to indicate that a more complex approach is needed.

There is much less research on associations between training (outside of the formal educational system) and classroom quality. There is some limited evidence that teachers and providers who have more clock hours of training provide higher-quality care, especially among family child care providers [2][3]. Likewise, training in the form of consultation, mentoring, and on-site technical assistance seems to be a promising avenue for improving quality.

As for where limited resources should be allocated—to education or training—I would say that we need to pay attention to the entire early childhood professional development system by looking at improving the quality of the education and training that teachers receive, increasing consultation and mentoring, and augmenting other supports for high-quality classrooms. In other words, I am doubtful that increasing either teacher education or training, in and of themselves, will lead to high-quality classrooms. Instead, our focus should be on ensuring that all education and training are relevant and applicable and that teachers and providers are supported in applying what they have learned.

Commentary by Vi-Nhuan Le: The literature is mixed with respect to the relationships among teacher qualifications, quality of care, and outcomes. A recent synthesis of seven large-scale datasets that used statistically advanced methods did not show a significant relationship between children's academic skills and their teachers' highest degree of educational attainment [1]. However, these studies looked only at academic skills in pre-kindergarten programs, so it's possible that relationships can be found for other types of outcomes, such as those involving social or physical development [4]. In addition, Tout, Zaslow, and Berry (2005) conducted a comprehensive review in which they found that teacher qualifications were positively related to classroom quality [5].

Back to topTop  

Hi, I am a retired family child care (FCC)/preschool director. My concern is how a rating system will be developed that fairly rates FCC programs that do not currently require providers to have a college degree. I feel if we require more than a two-year associate's degree in child development, we will push providers into elementary education and out of early child development. FCC providers should not be downgraded for a lack of education when formal education isn't required to be licensed. Should compliance be rated?

Diane Early: This question raises an important point: Quality rating systems are not necessarily the same thing as state licensing systems. I believe that licensing should focus on minimal standards for care of children in any setting, with special attention to health and safety. Issues such as amount of square footage per child, adult-to-child ratios, and hygiene should be covered within licensing. Quality rating systems (QRSs) should go further to promote high quality. Only centers and family child care homes that meet the licensing standards should be included in the QRS.

I agree that increasing teacher education requirements may encourage some providers to leave the field (either because their increased education makes them eligible for positions in the public school system or because they are not able to increase their educational attainment and therefore must seek other employment), and I am concerned that we may lose some good providers with such a push. As I noted in response to the previous question on the relationship between child care quality and teacher education, current research does not support the idea that simple policies that require increased teacher education will, by themselves, lead to improved quality. Instead, I suggest that QRSs should focus on what teachers/providers know and are able to do, as well as what children experience in the care setting. Further, policymakers who are interested in improving quality should think broadly about all aspects of the professional development system, including how education, training, and mentoring/consultation can be used to promote high quality in all types of settings.

Back to topTop  

Should there be limits on the amount of time children spend in child care (particularly center settings)? Why or why not?

Diane Early: No, there should not be time limits. One of the main functions of child care is to allow parents to work, and many families simply cannot afford to decrease the number of hours they work. Limiting the number of hours children spend in care would either decrease the number of hours parents work or force them to place their children in unregulated settings.

There is some evidence that exposure to child care has both benefits and drawbacks [6][7]. The benefits include improved early academic skills, especially among low-income children in high-quality settings. The drawback is that higher number of hours in care is linked to a slight increase in aggressive behavior, regardless of the quality of the care. Both the benefits and drawbacks tend to be small and should not lead to requirements around the amount of care children receive. How many hours a child spends in care is a decision every family needs to make for themselves depending on the amount of care they need to sustain their family; the care options, especially the quality of care, available in their community; and the temperament of their child.

Instead of limiting hours, child care regulations should focus on increasing the quality of early care and education that is available in every community. This will increase the number of care options available, thereby increasing the likelihood that families can find care that fits their needs.

Back to topTop  

What strategies to rate and improve quality have proven successful? What strategies to rate and improve quality should be avoided? How might we improve upon the strategies of others?

Gail Zellman: These are complicated questions with many layers. Rating quality and improving it are very different processes whose success must be measured in different ways. We also must define what we mean by the term "successful." With respect to ratings, success arguably means that we are able to rate providers and array them on a continuum of observed quality that reflects their actual quality. With respect to improvement, we look to studies that examine whether QRSs and any related quality-improvement efforts and incentives increase the quality of care delivered.

QRSs were designed to define and promote quality and make it more transparent. In this sense, QRSs have already been successful. They have defined quality standards across a broad range of quality of care for the first time. The measures that constitute QRSs provide the field with sets of consensual standards about what quality is at different levels, and the systems have called attention to these measures. Of course, QRSs differ in what they include, although I would argue that the differences often reflect measurement issues rather than disagreements about what constitutes quality. A good example concerns parent involvement. While many QRSs don't include it, this is often because current measures are viewed as inadequate, not because designers didn't think this concept is an important component of program quality. QRSs have also proven successful in encouraging support of quality improvement by infusing new resources into the child care system.

We do have evidence that ratings plus incentives do improve the quality of care, as measured by improvements in classroom environment over time in a number of studies. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that quality improvement strategies, such as the development of a ratings-based quality improvement plan or hands-on coaching, help programs improve their quality. But we have not focused much attention on the child-level outputs that we really care about—e.g., kindergarten readiness—and even less on the longer-term child outcomes—e.g., third-grade literacy. These measures of success impose ambitious expectations on systems that cover a wide range of children and programs and that do not impose any structured inputs or processes.

Commentary by Vi-Nhuan Le: The differences between QRSs constitute not only a measurement issue; there are also issues relating to the cost of collecting certain data. Some systems can't afford to include an observational component such as the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS), and that is more of an issue of costs, both in terms of money as well as burden to providers, than a measurement issue.

Back to topTop  

If the rating systems that are currently being used are being questioned, are there any rating systems that are thought to be more reliable or may be more reliable than those in this current crop of studies?

Gail Zellman: The efficacy of rating systems has been questioned because of their inattention to long-term outcomes. The limited studies that have attempted to assess them have found few or no connections between quality and these outcomes [8]. But it may be that the real problem in linking QRSs to child outcomes is due to lack of control over interventions and populations. Unlike in the early studies of program effects—in which disadvantaged children were randomly assigned to programs that provided high doses of high-quality care and extensive supports to parents and they were compared to no care at all [9][10]—care providers who participate in QRSs offer a range of care delivered in many different ways to children from a broad spectrum of home environments. It may be impossible to find strong effects of QRSs on longer-term child outcomes unless a more structured intervention is implemented and intervention-related outcomes are assessed. However, most education researchers believe that QRSs can improve the overall quality of care delivered, and perhaps this is a sufficiently important outcome in and of itself.

The impact of QRSs on child outcomes is a different question than reliability, which focuses on the degree to which measures of the same phenomenon produce the same results across raters and over time. For the most part, QRSs have not paid much attention to the reliability of measures, although research suggests that the reliability of at least some of the measures of quality employed in QRSs deserves attention [8].

We are homing in on how to improve quality. We more clearly understand that quality is really about teacher-child and child-child interactions, and that measures such as teacher-child ratios and teacher education and experience are proxies for these. But we don't know enough about the child care quality production process to focus exclusively on it in our ratings; our measures are imperfect assessments of what we do think are important processes. A good analogy is in medicine, where we know for example that in trying to improve the health outcomes of diabetics, it is important to control blood sugar and cholesterol and avoid peripheral damage; quality ratings can assess whether a medical doctor has appropriate conducted blood sugar and cholesterol tests and an annual exam in order to determine how well the disease is being controlled.

Commentary by Vi-Nhuan Le: QRSs have been questioned for other reasons in addition to their inattention to long-term outcomes. For example, some education researchers would argue that the measures included in most QRSs are too limited, because they typically don't capture teacher-child attachment relationships or other types of process quality.

Back to topTop  

Are there existing child care quality standards that states or other entities could adopt rather than developing their own? For example, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a long-standing accreditation program for early childhood education and child care providers. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of using this program or another one that has already been developed, and how should we choose among these?

Gail Zellman: There is a lot to be said for building new QRSs on the foundation of old ones. Much time and effort have been devoted in QRSs and other quality initiatives such as NAEYC's to identify the key components of quality. The harder task is the translation of standards and goals into consensual measures of quality. How do we know that a given standard has been adequately implemented? Is the measure reliable? Is it a valid indicator of true quality? These questions are critically important as the stakes attached to QRSs increase. Many of the measures currently being used in QRSs have not been well-studied, and some were developed in settings where there were no stakes or low stakes attached. This is the case with measures used in self-evaluation processes.

Back to topTop  

What is the role of parents' views and goals in defining child care quality? Everyone's understanding of quality care for children is shaped by their assumptions about the goals of childrearing—which are in turn shaped by their culture and values. This is just as true of "scientific" researchers as anyone else. How dare we create a system of defining quality without including the culturally diverse views of the parents of the children in care?

Margaret Burchinal: The degree to which the quality of child care is defined by parental views and goals is a complex and controversial issue. There are many different levels at which this issue is evaluated and many different viewpoints. The levels include the societal view about whether early childhood is the responsibility of parents or of society, the degree to which quality is defined solely by parental views and goals, and our ability to measure quality under any viewpoint.

Internationally, there are two different points of view about the role of early education. In European countries there is a strong belief that all education, including early education, is the public's responsibility. Decisions about child care quality are made by educators, not parents, as is the case in primary and secondary education. Similarly, society is expected to pay for at least some of the child care costs. In contrast, in the US and many Asian counties, there is a strong belief that all aspects of early childhood care are the sole responsibility of parents and parents know what is best for their child. In line with that point of view, parents are generally expected to pay for early child care. The only overlap in these two points of view occurs in the US when the federal or state government provides enrichment programs for low-income children like Head Start or public prekindergarten programs. In those cases, educators determine what constitutes quality, often with input from parents, and parents are not expected pay. There is discussion about whether that is appropriate for these enrichment programs, but I believe most of those discussions are among researchers rather than among practitioners.

There are also at least two points of view about whether child care quality is solely determined by parents. Based on the viewpoint that parents completely determine early childhood experiences for their children, many argue that parental values and goals regarding how adults should interact with children and what kinds of experiences are important should be the sole or primary determinant of child care quality. Others argue that inherently child care quality is determined by what predicts positive cognitive and social development among young children, irrespective of whether those practices are valued by parents. In reality, the difference between these two points of view is small because almost all parents value the same kinds of experiences that promote positive cognitive and social development among young children. National surveys of parents indicate that all parents, regardless of income or ethnicity, want child care experiences in which their children are safe, have close relationships with caregivers, and are acquiring school readiness skills. The specific practices that meet these goals may vary across settings and depend on the background of the caregiver and child, but almost all parents have said they are looking for child care settings that meet those goals.

Finally, researchers have examined various ways to measure quality. There are widely used measures of quality in which quality is defined by educators based on what they believe promotes social and cognitive skills. Almost all attempts to determine whether those measures predict child outcomes differently depending on the child's income or ethnicity have concluded that these measures predict child outcomes at least as well for low-income or ethnically diverse children as they do for white middle-class children. Similarly, they have tended to match the views and goals of parents from diverse income and ethnic backgrounds. Other measures have attempted to quantify different measures of quality depending on the parent's income or ethnicity. These measures have had limited success in predicting child outcomes or even parental values.

Overall, I believe there is little discrepancy between how educators define child care quality and how diverse parents define child care quality. Both educators and parents want early child care and education settings to provide a safe, warm, responsive, and stimulating environment for young children.

Gail Zellman: Parents have an important role in QRSs, although they have generally been less involved in their design than developers would have liked [11]. In many QRSs, parents' involvement is one component of quality because designers believe that parents' active engagement is critical to a high-quality program. But actively involving parents is difficult for many reasons, not the least being that most parents are working during the day (otherwise, they likely would not be using child care) and coming home at night to care for young children. Providers and QRS developers have struggled with how to engage parents in meaningful ways and to think productively about what "good" parent involvement should include. Zellman and Perlman (2006) address this issue, suggesting that thinking of this involvement as a partnership between parents and the provider on behalf of the child may be a useful approach [11].

Limited research on parent views of quality [12][13] suggests that parents and researchers tend to view provider quality in different ways. Parents generally consider providers to be of higher quality than researchers do. One reason is that parents spend little time with providers. For example, Endsley and Minish (1991) found that parents spend an average of 12 seconds with their child's provider while dropping their child off [14]. Powell found that 30 percent of parents report that they do not routinely enter the location of their child's provider when they drop their child off [15][16]. Moreover, parents may lack knowledge about care alternatives on which to base quality ratings. One study found that some parents consider only a single center before enrolling their child [17]. Finally, parents are motivated, in a way that researchers are not, to perceive that the provider who is caring for their child is delivering good care [18]. Recognition of parents' limited knowledge about child care quality has been a central impetus in the movement to develop QRSs. The ratings that underlie QRSs are intended to provide parents with a basis for making more-informed decisions about child care for their families.

Providers are increasingly paying attention to what parents value in designing programs. Many quality schemes include a focus on multicultural materials and the celebration of holidays from non-dominant cultures. But some of what some parents want more of, such as their children's completion of worksheets as a primary learning task, suggests the need for more parent education and frank discussion about child-rearing values and desired outcomes as the questioner suggests.

Commentary by Vi-Nhuan Le: There can be at least two sources of disagreements around the definition of child care quality, as touched upon by Burchinal's response. The first source of disagreement is related to the goals about what is best for the child, and as Burchinal points out, parents and researchers often have consensus on this point. The second source of disagreement is about the specific practices that are supposed to help achieve those goals. From a parent's perspective, it is important to address what happens if parents favor one approach that they believe to be reflective of high-quality care (such as teacher-centered instruction), but teachers/providers favor another approach (such as child-centered instruction). QRSs typically do not espouse any specific approach or practice, and operate on a broader macro level of establishing standards to improve quality of care, than on the micro level of establishing specific practices. Thus, there is general consensus that the indicators that are included in a QRS are indicators that both parents and researchers would agree are important.

Back to topTop  

From your research of various QRSs and other research, can you identify individual items/factors that can be measured/rated where improving that measure/rating will improve child outcomes? And for those you identify, are there baselines and increments of improvement that are significant (i.e. a score of X is needed for minimum quality and improvements of Y are significant)?

Margaret Burchinal: The literature suggests that items that provide better prediction of child outcomes measure the extent to which teachers: talk frequently with children in a manner that engages the child in real conversation (not just short answers); show the children they enjoy interactions (e.g., display positive affect the teacher display and not harsh negative affect); and engage in intentional instruction in an engaging manner.

Back to topTop  

What should be in place before a rating system is added? Does a rating system need to have increasing monetary incentives, more quality "stars," more $, in order to work?

Diane Early: QRSs are relatively new, and I do not think we can say with certainty what must be in place for them to work. However, it would seem reasonable to assume that they will need 1) supports for child care centers/providers to improve their ratings, and 2) incentives to make it worthwhile for centers/providers to seek a higher rating. In other words, we can't simply ask centers/providers to improve, we need to find ways to help them improve and motivate them to do so. Examples of supports would include technical assistance, mentoring, and provision of learning materials or supplies. Training for teachers and providers would be another possible support, but it is important that states think carefully about what training to provide, how to ensure the training will be of high-quality, and which teachers/providers would benefit. Examples of incentives would include increased subsidies for increased ratings and public awareness campaigns to encourage families to choose centers/providers with higher ratings.

Additionally, in order for a QRS to be fair, there must be adequate pretesting to ensure that the rating system is valid, and there must be sufficient funds to ensure that the individual ratings of centers/homes are done reliably.

Back to topTop  

Are there reliable, valid measures of cultural relevancy that can be used in rating systems? If such measures don't exist, what suggestions do you have about how a QRS can provide parents with information on cultural relevancy of programs?

Diane Early: I do not know of any reliable and valid measures of cultural competency/relevancy in early care and education classrooms. The Build Initiative is examining the general area of diversity and equity and are in the process of evaluating the extent to which current QRSs measure cultural competency/relevance. Their report on this issue will be available on their Web site soon and will include suggestions for improving measurement of cultural competence within QRSs.

Back to topTop  

Why evaluate a Quality Rating Improvement System (QRS) as if it were a structured early childhood education (ECE) program? QRS is a systemic framework designed to help guide decision-making regarding quality. It is a market intervention & a tool for system reform. It is not a program, with controlled inputs, like Head Start or Perry Preschool. QRS typically includes—and does not replace—current standards for Head Start, pre-kindergarten, and child care. Why not evaluate QRS system reforms—standards alignment, reduced duplication in monitoring, layered funding, etc?

Gail Zellman: This is an excellent question in which is embedded an important idea. One of the reasons that we have not found large effects of QRSs on child outcomes is that the conditions under which they operate are so different from the highly structured programs found to be successful over the long term, e.g., Abecedarian or Perry Preschool. Those programs included prescribed treatments and were evaluated by comparing the performance of children randomly assigned to the program against the performance of children who received no program services at all. In contrast, QRSs provide standards, monitoring, and widely varying levels of support for improvement. These are much less powerful interventions; from this perspective it is not at all surprising that the implementation of QRSs has not led to major improvements in child outcomes.

The need for substantial funds to design and implement QRSs may be one reason why QRS designers have felt pressured to promise improved child outcomes. Legislators understandably want to know what the funds they are being asked to allocate are likely to buy. Moreover, because QRSs are market-based accountability systems, standard accountability language and concepts, such as cost-benefit ratios, find their way into the discussion. In fact, as the question suggests, QRSs are tools for system reform, and should be more clearly framed in that way. If they were, there would be less inclination to compare them to the classic interventions in the field in terms of outcomes. Evaluating QRSs with far less emphasis on child outcomes would shine a light on key system needs and progress such as standards alignment as the questioner suggests. Some focus on process evaluation in the context of system evaluation, e.g., the degree to which teacher-child interactions promote literacy might be an acceptable political compromise [11].

Back to topTop  

In the quest to define quality, we are leaving holes in the overall education of young children. ECERS, Licensing, QRS, etc. all have pieces of the whole program. What can be offered that isn't too cumbersome for programs that will encompass all areas of quality? Is NAEYC accreditation the highest mark of quality? What about the Mom and Pop shops that have been offering warm nurturing educational programs in church basements for years? Where does the nurturing aspect fit in the equation?

Gail Zellman: A key benefit of QRSs that the field has already experienced is that they compel discussions of what quality is and how it should be assessed. In developing a QRS, a key early discussion must concern the key components of quality; a key output of these discussions is some sense about quality standards and how the components of quality together create a quality program. While more discussion is clearly needed, and more efforts need to be devoted to aligning standards across programs, the standards necessarily embedded in QRSs have begun to provide critically needed guidance to all stakeholders, including parents, who, before QRSs, had no way to understand what quality meant or what its building blocks were.

Nurturing or emotional support is clearly a critical component of the care of young children, and there is evidence that levels are generally high in pre-K programs [19]. But these concerns have been swamped in recent political discussions by the need to demonstrate that QRSs improve child academic outcomes. In some sense, these concerns about the outcomes of QRSs expressed by legislators and others are reasonable: QRSs are market based and designed to improve sector performance, which for legislators and child care sector stakeholders includes outcomes such as school readiness. Indeed, many would argue that the field needed a correction—years of loving care by grandmothers who based their activities on their experience with their own kids and grandkids were not meeting the cognitive and other developmental needs of the children in their care. Indeed, this very issue played out in the Department of Defense (DoD) when the Military Child Care Act of 1989 mandated staff development; meeting training milestones became part of what staff needed to do to keep their jobs. Many grandmother types who did not wish to tackle the DoD training curricula or go back to school left the system, much to the dismay of many parents, children and child development center directors. But the DoD stood fast, noting that nurturing was critical but insufficient to help children function at the highest possible level. While the field has not reached a consensus on which mix of staff credentials is the right one, there is substantial research that demonstrates at least some links between staff education and training and improved child outcomes [7][20]. Moreover, there is growing evidence that higher-quality instruction is associated with larger gains in academic outcomes in pre-K programs [21].

A range of program types provides parents with choices about the mix of nurturing, child ages, and structure that they want for their children. But it is in all of our interests to provide every child the best quality care we can, and this means that those nurturing moms and pops in the church basement should be providing high-quality instructional support along with all that loving.

Back to topTop  

Increasingly, QRSs are being designed with specific goals of impacting children's outcomes such as readiness for kindergarten. For a QRS designed with this type of goal, how essential is it that measures of quality are captured through on-site observation (i.e., ERS, CLASS) to capture aspects of program quality related to children's outcomes? Or is there any evidence that QRSs could be designed using only measures not involving on-site observation?

Gail Zellman: Research on pre-K settings and their effects on children's kindergarten readiness increasingly finds that measures of classroom processes are critical indicators of programs that promote child academic outcomes. Structural measures such as ratios, group sizes, and staff credentials are frequently used to assess quality, alone or in combination with process measures, but their relationships to child academic outcomes are not surprisingly more modest at best [7][20].

However, the research that would directly answer this question has not yet been conducted. Most of the quality data that are collected are limited to measures of ratios, staff credentials, and classroom environment and interactions, and most is collected on-site. We do not know if there are proxies for these measures that might effectively substitute for ERS or CLASS data that could be collected more efficiently. Given how costly it is to conduct observations in classrooms, it would be extremely useful to empirically examine this issue using a range of measures and measurement techniques. For example, some QRSs forgo on-site ERS observations in favor of self-assessments of classroom quality for programs that score at the lower quality rating levels. Studies that compare data derived from self-assessments with data from on-site observations, both conducted in the high-stakes settings that increasingly characterize QRSs, would provide valuable data that might potentially save on ratings costs; these resources could be freed up to improve quality rather than measure it.

Commentary by Vi-Nhuan Le: As Zellman notes, there is little research that examines whether self-reported data about quality can be used as good proxies for information collected via on-site observations. One such study addressed this question with respect to child-staff ratios [22]. The study asked parents to sign their children in and out of the child care center as they dropped them off and picked them up. During the day, staff members were responsible for signing children and themselves in and out of classrooms. The sign-in/sign-out data were used to compute child-staff ratios, and these figures were compared to child-staff ratios obtained through trained independent observers. There was very high correspondence between the two measures, suggesting that child-staff ratios obtained through the self-reported sign-in/sign-out procedure could potentially be used as a proxy for child-staff ratios obtained through on-site observations. This may be one way that QRS can save costs on data collection of child-staff ratios.

Back to topTop  

Is it possible to design one rating system with common standards across program types (centers, licensed family child care, school-based pre-kindergarten programs and Head Start)? Are there specific indicators of quality that are specific to each program type? Do the measurement tools or standards need to vary by program type?

Gail Zellman: For several reasons, the design of a single rating system with common standards is highly desirable. For one thing, it would make the goal of transparency that is a key aspect of these systems more real; a rating would mean the same thing for a Head Start program as for a for-profit center. Second, all children should receive the highest quality care possible. We would like programs of all types to strive for the same goals. If programs of different types are all striving for the same ultimate goals, then key indicators of quality should be the same, and this should be truer as we move from outputs to outcomes. Ideally, for example, all kids are ready for kindergarten, and learning gaps are addressed before children begin school.

However, there are important differences across program types that may have to be considered in the design and use of measurement tools. A good example concerns parent involvement. In some settings, e.g., Head Start, parent involvement is required; parents involved with this program understand that they are expected to participate in a variety of program activities. In many private-sector centers, there are no such expectations. And in family child care homes, the notion of parent involvement, at least in the more traditional sense, may not be reasonable or meaningful. Consequently, measures of this concept may need to vary by program type. Further, it is critical to consider parent characteristics in designing and validating measures of parent involvement. Providers that serve low-income populations, many of whom are single parents, are far less likely to score "high" if the measure focuses on percentages of parents showing up for meetings, etc. So parent involvement measures may need to focus more on efforts expended by providers than on how many parents participate. Alternatively, we may want to consider entirely different ways of assessing this and perhaps other key quality components. Zellman and Perlman (2006), for example, suggest that the concept of parent involvement should be reframed as a partnership between provider and parent in the interest of the child [18]. They describe some ways to assess this concept that may be more applicable across program types.

Back to topTop  

More About This Topic

Listed below are resources with more information on child care quality.

Assessing Child Care Quality: How Well Does Colorado's Qualistar Quality Rating Improvement System Work? — 2008

Assessing the Validity of the Qualistar Early Learning Quality Rating and Improvement System as a Tool for Improving Child-Care Quality — 2008

Child-Care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems in Five Pioneer States: Implementation Issues and Lessons Learned — 2008

Child-Care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems: What Can We Learn from Early Adopters? — 2008

Prepared to Learn: The Nature and Quality of Early Care and Education for Preschool-Age Children in California — 2008

The Ups and Downs of Child Care: Variations in Child Care Quality and Exposure Across the Early Years — Oct. 2008

QRS Quality Standards — Sep. 2008

QRS and the Impact on Quality in Early and School-Age Care Settings — Sep. 2008

Measures of Classroom Quality in Prekindergarten and Children's Development of Academic, Language, and Social Skills — May 2008

Teacher Education and Child Outcomes: A Reply to the Commentary — Sep. 2007

Teacher Education and PK Outcomes: Are We Asking the Right Questions? — Sep. 2007

Ready to Learn? Children's Pre-Academic Achievement in Pre-Kindergarten Programs — May 2007

Observed Classroom Quality Profiles in State-Funded Pre-Kindergarten Programs and Associations with Teacher, Program, and Classroom Characteristics — June 2006


Listed below are sources that are cited in the experts' answers above.

1.   Early, D. M., K. M. Maxwell, M. Burchinal, et al. "Teachers' education, classroom quality, and young children's academic skills: Results from seven studies of preschool programs," Child Development, Vol. 78, No. 2, 2007, pp. 558-580.

2.   Norris, D. J., "Quality of Care Offered by Providers with Differential Patterns of Workshop Participation," Child & Youth Care Forum, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2001, pp. 111-121.

3.   Rigby, E., R. M. Ryan, and J. Brooks-Gunn, "Child Care Quality in Different State Policy Contexts," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 26, No. 4, 2007, pp. 887-908.

4.   Bogard, K., F. Traylor, and R. Takanishi, "Teacher Education and PK Outcomes: Are We Asking the Right Questions?" Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2008, pp. 1-6.

5.   Tout, K., M. Zaslow, and D. Berry, "Quality and Qualifications: Links Between Professional Development and Quality in Early Care and Education Settings," in M. Zaslow and I. Martinez-Beck, eds., Critical Issues in Early Childhood Professional Development, Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2005, pp. 77-110.

6.   Belsky, J., D. L. Vandell, M. Burchinal, K. A. Clarke-Stewart, K. McCartney, M. T. Owen, and the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, "Are There Long-Term Effects of Early Child Care?" Child Development, Vol. 78, No. 2, 2007, pp. 681-701.

7.   Vandell, D., and B. Wolfe, Child Care Quality: Does It Matter and Does It Need to Be Improved? Madison, Wisc.: Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2000.

8.   Zellman, G. L., M. Perlman, V. Le, and C. M. Setodji, Assessing the Validity of the Qualistar Early Learning Quality Rating and Improvement System as a Tool for Improving Child-Care Quality, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, MG-650-QEL, 2008a.

9.   Campbell, F. A., and C. T. Ramey, "Cognitive and School Outcomes for High-Risk African-American Students at Middle Adolescence: Positive Effects of Early Intervention," American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 4, 1995, pp. 743-772.

10.   Weikart, D. P., J. T. Bond, and J. T. McNeil, "The Ypsilanti Perry Preschool Project: Preschool Years and Longitudinal Results Through Fourth Grade," Monographs of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, No. Three, Ypsilanti, Mich.: High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 1978.

11.   Zellman, G. L., and M. Perlman, Child-Care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems in Five Pioneer States: Implementation Issues and Lessons Learned, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, MG-795-AECF/SPF/UWA, 2008b.

12.   Cryer, D., and M. Burchinal, "Parents as Child Care Consumers," Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 12, 1997, pp. 35-38.

13.   Wolfe, R., and S. Scrivner, "Child Care Use and Parental Desire to Switch Care Type Among a Low-Income Population," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2004, pp. 139-162.

14.   Endsley, R. C., and P. A. Minish, "Parent-Staff Communication in Day Care Centers During Morning and Afternoon Transitions," Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 6, 1991, pp. 119-135.

15.   Powell, D. R., "Correlates of Parent-Teacher Communication Frequency and Diversity," Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 71, No. 6, 1978a, pp. 333-341.

16.   Powell, D. R., "The Interpersonal Relationship Between Parents and Caregivers in Day Care Settings," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 48, No. 4, 1978b, pp. 680-689.

17.   Lee Van Horn, M., S. L. Ramey, B. A. Mulvihill, and W. Y. Newell, "Reasons for Child Care Choice and Appraisal Among Low-Income Mothers," Child & Youth Care Forum, Vol. 30 , No. 4, 2002, pp. 231-249.

18.   Zellman, G. L., and M. Perlman, "Parent Involvement in Child Care Settings: Conceptual and Measurement Issues," Early Child Development and Care, Vol. 176, No. 5, 2006, pp. 521-538.

19.   Pianta, R., C. Howes, M. Burchinal, D. Bryant, R. Clifford, D. Early, and O. Barbarin, "Features of Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Classrooms, and Teachers: Do They Predict Observed Classroom Quality and Child-Teacher Interactions?" Applied Developmental Science, Vol. 9, No. 3, 144-159, 2005

20.   Elicker, J., and S. Mathus, "What Do They Do All Day: Comprehensive Evaluation of a Full-Day of Kindergarten," Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 12, 1997, pp. 459-480

21.   Howes, C., M. Burchinal, R. Pianta, D. Bryant, D. Early, R. Clifford, and O. Barbarin, "Ready to Learn? Children's Pre-Academic Achievement in Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 23, 2008, pp. 27-50.

22.   Le, V., Perlman, M., Zellman, G., & Hamilton, L. "Measuring child-staff ratios in child care centers: Balancing effort and representativeness," Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21(3), 2006, 267-279.