BUILD Initiative Blog | QRIS: Moving from What to Why and How?
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

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Sherri Killins, Ed.D., speaker at BUILD Initiative meetingSherri Killins, Consultant

BUILD Initiative

To what extent should program standards, known as QRIS, seek to define program quality by including health, safety and business practices of early childhood programs? Should program standards include hand-washing, CPR, first aide, safe sleeping, and medication administration etc.? Should program standards include business practices like annual audits, calculation of depreciation, business plans, record keeping, budgeting etc.? 

Or, should program standards defined by QRIS be more focused on the instructional leadership and the collection, analysis and utilization of information to measure the growth of children and to support classroom practices that provide stackable learning opportunities for children from birth to age eight? How do states support programs to meet multiple requirements and balance the use of regulation, licensing, contracting, monitoring, and program standards? Are these stackable opportunities for the development and maintenance of programs that seek to provide opportunities to educate young children? 

A Tiered System of Quality

The states began by using QRIS as a way to have a tiered system of quality. However, all children have a right to, and families desire, staff trained in health and safety and safe environments. Why did states build program standards to include matters that are a right of all children? Because licensing alone was often insufficient in most states to ensure demonstrated practice that according to the literature had the best chances of leading to growth and development of children. Can business practices be measured and monitored as a function of high quality contracting practices in states, towns and localities and health and safety be defined and monitored through child care licensing? 

We have used QRIS as a tool for establishing program standards based on a consensus about program inputs, for instance the use of screening, formative assessment, early learning standards, family and community engagement, planning time for educators, and classroom layouts. QRIS as program standards created a shared language about the skills of educators, the role of leadership and the opportunities early learning should create for children.

The leadership in community-based programs, Head Start, and public schools has a road map to use for educators in the development of skills and actions that intentionally transform program environments as well as the establishment of new partnerships. The goal is to transform and support the behaviors of adults responsible for creating protective relationships to support the growth and development of children. 

What instructional leaders know is that one individual educator could not be responsible for addressing the full range of needs of young children. QRIS was an effort to ensure program standards to guide leadership, curriculum, formative assessment, workforce, family engagement, community connections and linkages to connect to a range of supports creating an infrastructure for children's growth through the creation of opportunity. 

But, has QRIS provided sufficient focus and systemic opportunities for educators to use the program standards to understand the theory, research and practice that supports growth in children? To what extent have educators integrated and transformed their individual and collective work as teams so that they take full advantage of the inputs and multiple resources available to them? 

QRIS and Child Growth and Development

Should we now rethink the design, role and implementation of QRIS? Now that we have established the inputs and helped the field, at a minimum, to deepen its awareness of how program inputs relate to child growth, should we now place more emphasis within QRIS on children’s growth and development? Would we then drive improvements by using the early learning standards as a proxy for what opportunities children need to learn and grow? 

What would this shift in focus look like, and what are the practical and methodological questions that we will need to address? How can we galvanize the field, families and communities around the needs of individual children or groups of children? Can we turn our focus to what is required for children to grow and not around the deficits of adults or the program infrastructure? It is not an either/or proposition, but it does raise important questions about how we think about and implement QRIS over time.

This a debate we need to have. QRIS has worked to ramp up the learning environment and the qualifications of staff. A QRIS system provides a framework for creating the individualized and collective opportunities for children birth to age eight, with appropriate support for families and early childhood educators. Would this use of program standards lead to joint efforts between families, communities, and programs and greater growth opportunities for children 365 days a week, 24 hours a day. 

Would this approach allow early childhood program leaders and instructional leaders and educators to take the lead, within early education as well as health, economic development, and housing to recognize the 24 hour cycle of development and engage parents, community partners and other caregivers in authentic ways to promote opportunity and development of themselves and children?

Can early educators lead the way, support the community and families to be responsive and see their value added? Should QRIS be focused on intentional measures of child growth and the intentional creation of planned opportunities for individual and groups of children? 

What does this shift look like to you? And what questions does it raise?


BUILD Initiative consultant Sherri Killins, Ed.D. is a strategic and visionary leader on issues of families, children, and youth. She was a moderator, speaker and presenter at BUILD’s 2013 Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) National Meeting in July 2013.


Showing 3 Comments

Anne Mitchell 8 years ago

Thanks to you tomorrow.. my phone ate my comments

Gail Piggott 8 years ago

We are so exciting with all the help from early adopters in developing our QRIS. Much has been learned that should quick start our pilot and implementation such as fewer standards and better measurement and T/A. The emphasis on "what's best for children" fits our agency's mission and work and I hope will guide all that we do for quality enhancement and particularly QRIS. There must be value added with QRIS--but not all licensing baselines, oversight, and accountability systems are equal. I hope we will concentrate on what the research proves will result in better experiences and outcomes for children-- not just what is comfortable, customary, and what we've always done in "quality programs". There's too much evidence and research to guide us better now!

BJ Walker 8 years ago

QRIS is absolutely an opportunity door - not simply to set a standard but to fully understand - as adults - what kinds of transactions are truly "transformationa'l for young children.

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