“quality improvement” is not enough

not good enoughIts time to be honest about the woefully modest success rate of child care quality Improvement efforts.  With the best of intentions, a host of dedicated early childhood advocates (including myself) and policy makers have succeeded in bringing national focus and will to the importance of quality early childhood experiences. At the federal and state levels, everyone now gets that its important.  (ok, except for some).

We have recently made great strides in bringing attention to two of NAEYC’s famous three-legged approach to child care:  accessibility and affordability.  We haven’t solved them by any means but there is a national discussion underway that has made it to the presidential election conversation.  Major shifts in Early Head Start and in the CCDBG indicate the direction the feds are heading.  All of these efforts name high quality, the third leg of the stool, as a tacit given and none of us who know better have spoken up.  It is simply not a given. Second only to fixing compensation, it will be a major, major expense to do it right.  And we haven’t yet reached consensus on how to “get there from here”.

Our well-meaning efforts to describe quality for the child care industry through a high stakes use of an environmental assessment has not worked. I wish it had.  Its contributions are real and important but not at the systemic level needed.  In my opinion, it has not significantly improved the experiences of young children.  We may have even made it worse – now programs focus on their ERS scores instead of on the “continuous quality improvement” that is needed for this field to step up to its professional potential and responsibility.

Putting the early childhood field on track to doing right by American children will take greater systems thinking and complex, individualized implementation.  Awareness is the first step but it is not sufficient to craft solutions.   Honest, deep, clear-eyed analysis, free of conflict of interest considerations, is required for our children to receive the care and education to which they have a right.

PS:  to all my friends and colleagues out there who work every damn day to make child care good for kids, thank you.  My assessment is not for our lack of effort or strength and dedication.  I believe the current system is more complex and more entrenched than we anticipated.  We cannot despair and we cannot blame each other.  Professionals solve problems together.

“quality improvement” is not enough