The Evidence of Quality in Early Education Programs

Evidence of Quality

by: Andrea Petsche (with references: The National Association for the Education of Young Children holds the copyright for all material. The position statements and excerpts of program standards can be downloaded and reproduced for free. More information is available on NAEYC’s website, www.naeyc.org).

As Parents, we want the best for our children. From the moment we learn of our newfound journey, we begin reading books, visiting doctors, taking classes and curtailing our lives around these tiny people to expand our knowledge and glean all we can to provide the best possible outcome for our little loves. And truthfully- does this ever stop?

When it’s time to prepare for their education, we similarly look for, talk to and research the best environment for our kids to thrive. Whether it is a Parent-Toddler Class all the way to their college applications we feel it our mission to support our kids from cradle to career.

We use the term “quality” about schools and educational environments. But what does that mean? What does that look like? From my perspective it means many things and can be looked at from a variety of angles. One blog post can’t begin to dissect the entirety of this word from the perspective of preschools, independent schools, public, private, and charter. But it can shed a bit of light on the fundamental basics.

 How Shall We Define Quality?

For this purpose it is the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind, the degree of excellence of something.

Therefore, quality in school programs is typically objectifiable and measurable. We see this in our public and private school systems when we look at how schools measure their achievements. Private and independent schools are recognized through memberships, accreditations, associations, awards and through the standards to which they adhere. California public schools are recognized through their API (Academic Performance Index) scores, Blue Ribbon and as California Distinguished Schools, for example.

There may be some schools, in particular, elementary or early education programs that do not regularly subscribe to particular standards yet they are (or consider themselves) quality. While this may be a more qualitative approach, it is truly up to the individuals involved, (attending and assessing each program) to determine quality if no such quantitative measurement system exists. The absence of standards of measurement does not necessarily or automatically disqualify a program from being quality.

Parents getting started in the school search process can look to some basic and foundational universal signs for which quality early education and elementary schools are usually consistent. Parents can become aware of indicators and what to look for when seeking quality programs for their child.

 Indicators of Quality: Relationships

“Programs promote positive relationships among all students and adults. They encourage each student’s sense of individual worth and belonging as part of a community and foster each student’s ability to contribute as a responsible community member. Warm, sensitive, and responsive relationships help students feel secure and supported in all areas of their development and achievement. The secure environment built by positive relationships help students thrive physically, benefit from learning experiences, and cooperate and get along with others.”

 What to Look for in a Program?

Students and adults feel welcome when they visit the program. Teachers help students in all areas of their development (not just academically). Relationships focus on the whole child.
Teaching staff engage in warm, friendly conversations with the students and encourage and recognize students work and accomplishments. Students have time for play, and this is encouraged. Students are invited to work together. Teachers help students resolve conflicts by identifying feelings, describing problems, and trying alternative solutions.

Curriculum

“The program implements a curriculum that is consistent with its goals for children and promotes learning and development according to the age and stage of the program. A well-planned written curriculum provides a guide for teachers and administrators. It helps them work together and balance different activities and approaches to maximize student’s learning and development. The curriculum includes goals for the content that students are learning, planned activities linked to these goals, daily schedules and routines, and materials to be used.”

Ask about the program’s curriculum and how it addresses all aspects of student development and achievement. The curriculum should not focus on just one area of development. Children are given opportunities to learn and develop through exploration and play, and teachers have opportunities to work with individual children and small groups on specific skills. Materials and equipment spark children’s interest and encourage them to experiment and learn. Activities are designed to help children get better at reasoning, solving problems, getting along with others, using language, and developing other skills.
If looking for a Preschool, Infants and toddlers play with toys and art materials that “do something” based on children’s actions, such as jack-in-the-box, cups that fit inside one another and play dough.
Teaching

“Programs use developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate and effective teaching approaches that enhance student learning and development in the context of the curriculum goals. Students have different learning styles, needs, capacities, interests, and backgrounds. By recognizing these differences and using instructional approaches that are appropriate for each student, teachers and staff help all students learn.” NAEYC

  • Teachers carefully supervise all children
  • Teachers provide time each day for indoor and outdoor activities (weather permitting) and organize time and space so that children have opportunities to work and play individually and in groups
  • Students recent work (for example, art and writing, stories) is displayed in the classroom to help students reflect on and extend their learning
  • Teachers modify teaching strategies and materials to respond to the needs and interests of individual children, engaging each child and enhancing learning
  • Assessment is a part of the program and curriculum is adjusted to support students in reaching assessment goals

“The program is informed by ongoing systematic, formal, and informal assessment approaches to provide information on student’s learning and development. These assessments occur within the context of reciprocal communications with families and with sensitivity to the cultural contexts in which children develop. Assessment results benefit students by informing sound decisions, teaching, and program improvement. Assessments help teachers plan appropriately challenging curriculum and tailor instruction that responds to each student’s strengths and needs. Assessments can also help teachers identify students with disabilities and ensuring that they receive needed to support”

The program supports student learning using a variety of assessment tools. Assessment methods are appropriate for student age and level of development and encompass all areas of development and learning, including math, science, and other cognitive skills; language; (social-emotional (classroom behavior); and physical (physical education).

Teachers use assessment methods and information to design goals for individual children and monitor their progress, as well as to improve the program and its teaching strategies.
Families receive information about their student’s progress and learning on a regular basis, through meetings or conferences.
Health

“The program promotes the nutrition and health of students and protects students and staff from illness and injury. Students must be healthy and safe to learn and grow. Programs must be healthy and safe to support student’s healthy development”.

Staff has training in pediatric first aid. If a preschool or child care serving infants, infants are placed on their backs to sleep.
The program has policies regarding regular hand washing, and a facility is routinely cleaned and sanitized all surfaces in the facility.
There is a clear plan for responding to illness, including how to decide whether a student needs to go home and how families will be notified. Snacks and meals are nutritious, and the food is prepared and stored safely.

 Teachers

“The program employs and supports a teaching staff with the educational qualifications, knowledge, and professional commitment necessary to promote student’s learning and development and to support families’ diverse needs and interests. Teachers who have specific preparation, knowledge, and skills in child development and early childhood and elementary education are more likely to provide positive interactions, richer language experiences, and quality learning environments”.

The teaching staff has educational qualifications and specialized knowledge about young children, teaching, child development and education. Ask, for example, how many teachers have associate degrees, bachelor degrees, master degrees and teaching credentials.
Ask how many teachers are aides working toward their credentials and placed in a classroom with a fully credentialed teacher.
Preschools according to the State of California, for example, allow teachers to be fully qualified and if in ratio, alone with children with only 12 post-secondary community college courses. This would be, 1 Child Development Course, 2 Curriculum Courses and 1 Home, Family and Community Course. Ask if the Preschool requires more education beyond the state minimum for fully-qualified teachers.

The program makes provisions for ongoing staff development, including orientations for new staff and opportunities for continuing education. Teaching staff have training in the program’s curriculum and work as a teaching team.

 Families

“The program establishes and maintains collaborative relationships with each student’s family to foster development. These relationships are sensitive to family composition, language, and culture. To support student’s optimal learning and development, programs need to establish relationships with families based on mutual trust and respect, involve families in their student’s educational growth, and encourage families to fully participate in the program.”

All families are welcome and encouraged to be involved in all aspects of the program. Teachers and staff talk with families about their family structure and their views about their child’s learning and they use that information to support the curriculum and teaching methods for individual children as well as the group. Professionals work as advocates and on behalf of students in consultation with all members of the family unit. The program uses a variety of strategies to communicate with families, including family conferences, new family orientations, and individual conversations, letter, emails and phone-calls. Program information—including policies and operating procedures—is provided and when/if necessary in a language that families can understand.

 Community Relationships

“The program establishes relationships with and uses the resources of the student’s communities to support the achievement of program goals. Relationships with agencies and institutions in the community and around the world can help a program achieve its goals and connect families with resources that support student’s healthy development and enhance learning opportunities.”

The program connects with and uses museums, parks, libraries, zoos for field trips; other schools in need (adopt a school) or even mission trips for older children and other resources in the community.

Representatives from community programs, such as musical performers and local artists, are invited to share their interests and talents with the children. The staff develops professional relationships with community agencies and organizations that further the program’s capacity to meet the needs and interests of children and families.

 Physical Environment

“The program has a safe and healthful environment that provides appropriate and well-maintained indoor and outdoor physical environments. The environment includes facilities, equipment, and materials to facilitate student and staff learning and development. An organized, properly equipped, and well-maintained program environment promotes the learning, comfort, health, and safety of the students and adults who use the program.”

The facility is designed so that staff can supervise all children by sight and sound. The program has necessary furnishings, such as hand-washing sinks, student-size chairs and tables and a variety of equipment clean, safe and in good repair. For Preschools/Infant centers, cots, cribs, or sleeping pads. Outdoor play areas have fences or natural barriers that prevent access to streets and other hazards. First-aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and other safety equipment are installed and available.

 Leadership and Management

“The program effectively implements policies, procedures, and systems that support stable staff and strong personnel, and fiscal, and program management, so all children, families, and staff have high-quality experiences. Effective management and operations, knowledgeable leaders, and sensible policies and procedures are essential to building a quality program and maintaining the quality over time.”

The program administrator has the necessary educational qualifications, including a degree from a four-year college and specialized courses in early childhood education, child development, elementary education, administration, human development or related fields. The program is licensed and regulated by the applicable state agency. The program’s written policies and procedures are shared with families and address issues such as the program’s philosophy and curriculum goals, policies on guidance and discipline, and health and safety procedures.

Appropriate group sizes and ratios of teaching staff to children are maintained.
(References: NAEYC Program Standards www.naeyc.org)

Should We Be Concerned About Quality?

In a Simple Answer, Yes!

Research has shown that quality programming for families who choose to place children in Preschool or Child Care (whether it is because they are working or having readiness Preschool experiences) is beneficial for the entire family. If you are a parent or provider of young children and you are contemplating critical issues, NAEYC has authored fact-based position statements that face young children that directly relate to quality. Families and practitioners who educate themselves on these critical and controversial issues are better equipped to;

  • Build better partnerships with each other
  • Support their communities in offering high-quality programs
  • Foster and educate others on developmentally appropriate practices
  • Advocate for and deliver best-practices when faced with unique or unusual circumstances
  • “NAEYC Position Statements are adopted by the Governing Board to state the Association’s position on issues related to early childhood education practice, policy, and professional development for which there are controversial or critical opinions. Position Statements are developed through a consensus-building approach that seeks to convene diverse perspectives and areas of expertise related to the issue and provide opportunities for members and others to provide input and feedback.” NAEYC
In developing and disseminating position statements, NAEYC aims to:
  • Take informed positions on significant, controversial issues affecting young children’s education and development
  • Promote broad-based dialogue on these issues, within and beyond the early childhood field;
  • Create a shared language and evidence-based frame of reference so that practitioners, decision makers, and families may talk together about key issues in early childhood education;
  • Influence public policies;
  • Stimulate investments needed to create accessible, affordable, high-quality learning environments and professional development; and
  • Build more satisfying experiences and better educational and developmental outcomes for all young children.” (NAEYC)

References:The National Association for the Education of Young Children
holds the copyright for all material. The position statements and excerpts of program standards can be downloaded and reproduced for free. More information is available on NAEYC’s website, www.naeyc.org.

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