As may be clear from this post, I have some reservations about the Quality Rating and Improvement Systems states are being asked to create under Early Learning Challenge. Partly that’s because the QRIS systems themselves are just too new–and still in development in many states–for us to really know whether or how well they work to drive real improvements in quality or child learning outcomes. Partly it’s because I think the balance of emphasis between inputs and instruction in most existing QRIS leans a little too heavily on the former. But I’m also concern that QRIS systems could serve to preserve in amber a current conception of what high-quality early childhood education looks like in a way that stifles future potential innovation.
Just to be clear: I think the things most QRIS currently measure–environmental quality, teacher and administrator credentials, quality of organizational management and operations–are important, things we should want for kids, and things that research suggests are linked to better outcomes, particularly in childcare. That said, I’m wary of going to far in assuming that what we think quality early childhood programs look like today is what they all have to look like always–that we might close the door to potentially productivity enhancing and disruptive innovation that could improve early learning outcomes more cost effectively or enable us to extend quality early learning experiences to more children. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a large number of children and families are priced out of this system altogether (recall that the majority of families of children under 5 with working mothers pay NOTHING for childcare–meaning they’re getting it outside the regular market); it would be a shame to block disruptive innovations that enable more of these families to participate in the early care and education market to get better early learning opportunities for their kids.