Last month, Boston EQUIP — the Early Education Quality Improvement Project— released two reports on the quality of early childhood programs in Boston:
– Community Profiles 2013, a comprehensive online survey of early education providers in Boston, and
– the Boston Quality Inventory (BQI) 2013, an in-depth study of program quality conducted at a sample of home-based and center-based early education and care programs
These reports present crucial data that help inform and advance the policy conversation about how to improve program quality. Research shows that early education programs must be high-quality in order to see lasting positive impacts on children’s development.
Launched in 1994, Boston EQUIP is “a project of Associated Early Care and Education with a broad goal and mission – to collaborate with members of the Boston early education community to systematically evaluate, set goals for, and improve upon the quality of early childhood programs,” according to a press release. The project is aligned with Boston’s Thrive in 5 School Readiness Roadmap, which “sets goals and strategies for strengthening, coordinating and improving the quality of child and family-serving systems in the city, in order to prepare children to succeed in school.”
The BQI report was conducted by Nancy Marshall and her colleagues at the Work, Families and Children Research Group at the Wellesley Centers for Women. The findings are based on program quality data collected on-site at a random sample of licensed programs: 45 center-based programs serving infants and toddlers; 45 center-based programs serving preschoolers; and 45 family child care homes.
The BQI is the third in a series of inventories that were also taken in 2007 and 2010.
Among the BQI’s main themes is the need to provide more higher education and professional development programs for early childhood teachers. As the report says, Better trained and educated teachers are “are urgently needed to close achievement gaps and to support early literacy and reading proficiency.”
– Since 2009, more educators have Bachelor’s or higher degrees. This is true for all provider types.
– The proportion of Boston’s community preschool classrooms taught by teachers with a bachelor’s or higher rose from 37 percent in 2010 to 62 percent of classrooms in 2013.
– Salaries of early educators in community-based programs remain stagnant.
– Most center-based and family child care programs are using Teaching Strategies Gold developmental assessments to ensure quality outcomes for young children.
– Boston’s community preschool classrooms have maintained the quality improvements of general curriculum practices and emotional and social support.
– Boston’s community preschool classrooms showed significant improvements on literacy. In 2007, 11 percent of classrooms met the “Good” benchmark on the SELA Literacy Index. In 2013, 29 percent of classrooms met the “Good” benchmark on the ELLCO Literacy Index. But as the report notes, “there is still considerable room for improvement.”
– The number of Boston’s accredited early childhood providers has dropped and is now the lowest recorded overall accreditation since 2005.
The reports four central recommendations call for improvements in a range of areas:
1. Increase the proportion of early childhood educators with Bachelor’s degrees.
Researchers “found that having an educator with a bachelors’ degree or more was significantly associated with the quality of BQI 2013 infant, toddler and preschool classrooms.” And among family child care homes, providers who had a Child Development Associate certificate or some college education provided higher quality early care and education than providers who only had a high school diploma or equivalent.
2. Provide more training and coaching for Boston early childhood educators.
Specifically, the report calls for training teachers to promote language development for infants and toddlers and in preschool classrooms. For infants and toddlers, this includes responses to children’s attempts to communicate, talking to children frequently throughout the day, and reading books to interested children.
Family care providers should get more training in the age-appropriate use of television and other media. And preschool classroom teachers should be trained to integrate daily writing into their classrooms.
“Some of this training may be available through formal education, but even when educators have a BA degree, additional training has been found to be associated with higher quality.”
3. Improve health and safety practices in centers and family child care homes.
Researchers found inconsistent hand washing among children and adults as well as tripping and choking hazards. In addition, some programs relied on public playgrounds that lacked fencing or were not well maintained.
“Because young children are still developing their own health and safety behaviors, early childhood classrooms face additional requirements when protecting the health and safety of young children.”
4. Increase accreditation of programs by professional early childhood associations.
“About half (52 percent) of Boston’s early care and education centers are accredited by NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children; in the BQI 2013, about half (53.3 percent) of centers in the preschool random sample were accredited. Accreditation rates for family child care providers in the BQI 2013 are low; 15 percent were currently accredited by NAFCC, the National Association for Family Child Care.”
As the report concludes overall, continuing investments are needed to improve the quality of early education and care programs so that children who live in Boston and Massachusetts can have the strong start they need to succeed in school and in life.
Cities and towns across Massachusetts — particularly the Gateway Cities — need their own quality studies so that these municipalities can have more informed local conversations about early education and school readiness.