As more and more states, including Massachusetts, adopt Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), the challenge is to ensure that they live up to their name – that they not only rate program quality but also effectively help programs improve.
Early education consultant Louise Stoney, co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, provides a thoughtful analysis in “Effective QRIS Technical Assistance and Coaching,” a guest post on Sara Mead’s Policy Notebookblog.
“In most states, TA [technical assistance] or coaching is designed to prepare ECE [early childhood education] programs for a QRIS rating, facilitate the rating process, or improve the rating. It is not surprising, then, that TA staff typically spend most of their time with paperwork and checklists: helping programs assemble the QRIS documentation package or prepare for ERS [Environmental Rating System] observations– because that’s what the QRIS requires,” Stoney writes.
“A recent NCCP report on QRIS coaching found that most TA providers do not focus on ‘early learning related to school readiness,’ model a teaching strategy or intentionally observe staff practicing a teaching strategy. Why not? Because in most states excellent teaching won’t necessarily boost a QRIS score, and complying with every detailed requirement in an ERS assessment frequently will. In other words, if we want our TA providers to focus on strengthening early learning then we need to re-think our QRIS standards and required documentation…. I do not believe the answer is adding more requirements but rather challenging ourselves to winnow requirements down to a few standards that are more directly related to reflective practice and child learning and development.”
Stoney poses several questions for states to consider in their utilization of coaching and technical assistance:
- Can we identify areas where coaching has the greatest benefit (e.g. teaching practices) and those where programs are more likely to succeed on their own without coaching (e.g. health and safety practices)?
- Can we identify which ECE programs are most likely to benefit from TA and which do not have the institutional capacity or resources to improve?
- How can we most effectively help ECE programs with little or no institutional capacity?
- What about issues of race, class, culture? Or accommodations made to address a child’s disability or the needs of English Language Learners? TA providers and coaches must understand how these issues uniquely influence program structure, philosophy and teaching practices.
- How should we hold TA providers and coaches accountable? Some states focus on inputs (e.g. TA provider educational credentials or a specific coaching curriculum) while others focus on results (e.g. did the TA actually improve quality?) What do we know about effective accountability in this context?
- How should TA link to professional preparation? What changes are needed in Institutions of Higher Education?
She concludes with a more fundamental question about QRIS:
“Perhaps the most perplexing issue, in my view, is the challenge posed by ECE programs that simply do not have the resources they need to provide high-quality early learning opportunities, including well-qualified teachers,” Stoney writes. “If we spend our limited dollars to craft QRIS, and linked TA systems, without helping ECE programs secure the ongoing revenues they need to attain and maintain a high quality program, are we setting the stage for failure over the long haul?”