High Stakes, yes?

niki_edited“It’s in the early years that children…

—First try to understand and master their environment and find those efforts encouraged-

– Or not.

—First attempt to concentrate and find it possible –

– Or not.

—First conclude that the world is orderly and predictable –

– Or not.

—First learn that others are basically supportive and caring –

–  Or not.

—It is in those years that the foundations for later learning are laid down –

– Or not.”

from Heart Start, 2006

The reason this quote is so powerful for me is that the first sentences are EVERYWHERE.  No one contests them.  Subsequent research only makes them more unassailable.  But we aren’t driven to urgent action because we rarely discuss the “or not” outcomes.   I maintain the “or not” outcomes are far more prevalent than the general public knows – especially parents.  Mediocre child care produces the “or nots” every single day throughout the country.   It doesn’t take a horrendous child care program to rob children of their right to grow strong and smart.  It just takes the adults allowing a ho-hum kind of trance to settle  over their thinking.   Done.

High Stakes, yes?

Yelling may be necessary if we are going to improve child care. really.

We aren’t making much progress against “crummy child care”.  Everyone I have spoken with limbic girlover the years who does this work, agrees.  Everyone.  But since no one is really asking us, initiatives keep getting built around unreasonable and ineffective outcomes.  I AM a fan of environmental rating scales but they are literally just a poke into the work needed.

We know the children need responsive warm relationships with their teachers – single best predictor of child success – right?  But because we only get funding for measurable outcomes, like ERS or CLASS scores, we have limited our efforts to the “teach to the test” approach that WE KNOW DOESN’T HELP CHILDREN.   This “do as funders can measure” trance has gone on long enough.  We must start talking about how to actually change the behaviors of teachers. (Forgive the abundance of quotation marks and capitals but I want this to jump off the screen and into the minds and hearts of those of us who KNOW that children are suffering in many child care programs).  If we don’t say what we see, nothing will change.

This week, in a news story from NC, “day care” teachers were caught yelling at a kid who went to the bathroom on the playground “I don’t get paid to clean up your **^%.”  and further shaming and exclamations.  It was not some under the radar, unlicensed family child are home. It was in a high-starred corporate chain.  Was I shocked?  Not at all.  And I bet you aren’t either.  Seen children yelled at?  Seen them yanked up?  Ignored?  Threatened?  I have seen all of these behaviors from some combination of a) stressed b) mean c) uneducated d) bullying women.   Should they be paid more?  Not to yell at kids.  But if we think its ok to leave children in their care then we are part of the problem.  And if we are sympathetic to their stress, then we need to do something.  Not just rate their room arrangement.

This incident particularly irks me because I know it goes on far more often than anyone (else) knows.  Its not just bad behavior by rogue teachers.  Its the state of the industry as a whole and I do mean industry.  A profession would never tolerate that behavior and would have weeded it out long before.   There are thousands of children exposed to these conditions every day, every where.  And we wonder about their behavior?

I know we can’t monitor every playground and classroom.  I know regulations are our best effort to protect children.  But those of us who are in classrooms “improving quality” have seen the experiences of many many children and I think we are morally obliged to raise the alarm. Intelligently, with offerings of suggestions (mine is Quality Design & Build) and caveats for the great teachers and the criminally low pay, I still feel obligated to scream bloody murder until we adapt better strategies to really build quality.  Real Quality.  No, really.


Yelling may be necessary if we are going to improve child care. really.

A proposed Quality Design & Build framing of the skeletal kind

scaffold_editedMy notion of Quality Design and Build starts with a workbook with a wholistic description of “quality” elements including, but not limited to, those elements for which we have evidence that they effect outcomes for children.  Others are included because we see and understand the relevance of, for instance, cultural competence, and while waiting for the research, I include it because we know it is important for the development and learning of young children.

Each element provides a structure for reflection, self assessment and then planning: What are the programs current strengths in this area?  Where do they partially meet best practices, and most important, why?  What are the barriers?  How can we address those barriers? What resources are needed?  How long will it take? Whose responsibility will this be? When will the work get done?

The setting of priorities is another layer.  Are there state standards soon to be met for a QRIS? What are short and long term goals? Does a goal include becoming NAEYC Accredited?  These are the standard processes for strategic planning but applied at the program level where real change is expected and required to happen.  With Quality Design & Build, a child care program takes control of its own identity and goals, even while moving to fulfill QRIS benchmarks.  Teaching staff have the whole picture in front of them to consider, while being asked to alter their daily schedule to meet “substantial portion of the day” – an important feature of the ECERS-R that often isn’t well understood in context by teachers.  All are contributions to the larger whole.

Each of the nine elements come with annotation of what they entail, what the research tells us and examples of what it looks like in practice.  Each element is listed with a known assessment instrument, where I know one exists, that programs may use for further development and understanding.

Quality Design & Build elements:

1.  Effective classroom structure

  • schedule
  • room arrangement
  • materials

2.  Teacher education

  • Credit-bearing courses, certificates and degrees
  • Effective on-going professional development
  • Supports by other professionals (coaching, mentoring)

3.  Salaries  (let’s save this further urgent discussion)

4.  Teachers effectively apply skills and knowledge

  • specific areas of focus: e.g.literacy, outdoor learning environments, Dual Language Learners, math and science, social and emotional development

5.  Content of children’s instructional learning

  • curriculum
  • specific areas of focus: e.g. literacy, outdoor learning environments, Dual Language Learners, math and science, social and emotional development

6.  Authentic, appropriate and useful on-going child assessment

7.  Supportive and effective administration

  • management
  • leadership
  • mentorship

8.  Authentic family engagement

9.  Cultural competence and respect for families, children and staff

I suffer from the same angst that I think has held the field back from feeling comfortable demanding changes in practices.  There is no one perfect list of qualities.  There are arguments to be made for and against the relative importance of each of the elements I list. But in this case, perfection is indeed the enemy of progress and when I look at the years of childhoods that have passed while I thought about it, I am no longer patient.  I think we owe it to children to go faster, deeper and be more willing to risk not being perfect. Now.

What do you think?


A proposed Quality Design & Build framing of the skeletal kind