Current Efforts to Establish Measures and Indicators
Existing efforts to establish performance standards and measures for child care at the national, state, and community levels provided an important background for workshop discussions. This chapter briefly describes the experience of the Head Start program as well as early research findings on Early Head Start. It also looks at efforts to develop national indicators, specifically the Annie E. Casey Kids Count program.
HEAD START PERFORMANCE STANDARDS AND MEASURES
The Head Start program is structured to provide funds directly to local communities, mostly to nonprofit organizations. Louisa Tarullo, of the Commissioner's Office of Research and Evaluation in the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, noted that Head Start is a “two-generation program in that it seeks to enhance children's growth and development and strengthen families as primary nurturers of their children.”
Head Start first developed program standards in the mid-1970s, and they have evolved over time to reflect the best knowledge from research and practice on quality and program implementation. In developing standards, Head Start took a comprehensive view of appropriate outcomes, which Tarullo said were closely linked to the assessment principles set forth in the National Education Goals Panel report (see Chapter 2). According to Tom Schultz of the Head Start Bureau, the 1993 report of the Advisory Com-
mittee on Head Start Quality and Expansion called for revising the performance standards and developing a set of Head Start performance measures. The list of individual standards is long, but examples of the types of standards include the requirement that each local Head Start program develop a curriculum that fosters seven broad aims of child development and school readiness. Another type of standard would be the requirement of comprehensive health screening and immunizations and providing preventive and health services children need. The standards also require that parents and community representatives be heavily engaged in the decision-making process about program planning. (For more information on the Head Start Performance Standards and Measures, contact < www2.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/hsb/>.)
Monitoring of Head Start
The program sends monitoring teams to Head Start sites at least once during a three-year cycle. These teams address with some consistency how sites are interpreting the standards and the evidence available that they are meeting them. The Bureau has created standardized procedures and instruments for conducting focus groups with parents, governing board members, and staff. A sample of children and families is also tracked to document through interviews and observations the services they've received. The monitoring teams brief the Head Start grantees and provide a written report on findings and recommendations. The grantee then responds to those findings and institutes a process to rectify deficiencies. If that process is not successful, funding can be terminated to the grantee and transferred to another community agency, based on a competitive process. At the time of the workshop, Schultz noted, more than 100 grantees had been terminated through this monitoring.
Commenting on the challenges of the effort in a program on the scale of Head Start, Schultz said these paled in comparison to imagining a system for the entire universe of child care providers. On the other hand, as participants noted, the structure of the Head Start program has continually evolved with greater movement toward gauging performance and quality. Workshop participant Helen Raikes, formerly with the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families and then with the Gallup Organization, pointed out that in programs such as Head Start, focusing on performance measures and providing staff training, monitoring, and assessment has provided an important impetus for enhancing quality.
Tarullo also highlighted findings from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences survey, which collects data from a nationally representative sample from the point of program entry to provide a baseline for gauging children's progress over time. Data are collected from multiple sources: teachers, parents, observation, and directed assessment of children. The survey relied upon available measures such as the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS), although Tarullo noted the continuing need for more culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate data collection measures. Results indicated that no Head Start classrooms were below a minimal quality range on the ECER. Tarullo emphasized that this was seen as a threshold of quality, and Head Start focuses on continuous program improvement. Another finding of interest was the correlation between Head Start teachers' educational levels and the program's quality measures. The importance of parents' involvement also was clear. Looking at whether parents read to their children, for example, two-thirds of Head Start parents read to their child three times a week or more. This was linked to a higher vocabulary score for children at the end of a year. These scores were also bolstered in the classroom where richer teacher/child interactions were observed.
Early Head Start
Discussions at the workshop noted that variability in quality was particularly acute in infant/toddler care. The Early Head Start program was established for low-income pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers. It focuses on four cornerstones essential to quality programs: child development, family development, community building, and staff development. The program is accompanied by a major research effort to identify, develop, and apply measures of quality and outcomes for children and families. Tarullo told the workshop that Early Head Start outcomes were not explicitly different than those of Head Start. Using the Infant/ Toddler Environmental Rating Scale, results were comparable to those found for Head Start on the ECERS scale. She noted that early indications suggested that Early Head Start has been able to narrow the range of variability in care and show a high quality. She stressed that implementation of these assessments were in the early stages at the time of the workshop, and different kids of objectives and instruments were likely to emerge as the Early Head Start Evaluation proceeds. (For more information on Early Head Start, please contact <www2.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/hsb/>.)
CHILD CARE AND DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT
The Administration on Children and Families works with state administrators, professional organizations, parents, and child care workers to identify elements of quality in early child care and appropriate measures. Under the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a minimum of 4 percent of funds must be used to improve the quality of child care and offer additional services to parents, such as resource and referral counseling regarding the selection of appropriate child care providers.
States have used these funds to provide training grants and loans to providers, to improve program monitoring, to enhance compensation for child care workers, and for other innovative programs. The overall goal is to improve the quality of child care services over time. Some examples of outcomes specified by the CCDBG are:
Increase the number of child care facilities that are accredited by a nationally recognized early childhood development professional organization.
Increase the number of states that reimburse at or above the 75th percentile of market rate for high-quality care.
Increase the number of states that provide health services linkages with child care (i.e., immunization, screening, and Medicaid outreach).
Increase the number of Head Start programs that partner with child care services to improve quality of care.
For more information, please contact <www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/ccb/policy1>.
INDICATORS AND PERFORMANCE MEASURES
Workshop participants emphasized that broad indicators are also useful in efforts to develop performance measures and assure quality in child care. Among the characteristics of good indicators are the following (Moore, 1997):
Indicators should have the same meaning in varied societal groups.
Indicators should have the same meaning over time.
Indicators should be developed not only at the national level but also at the state and local levels.
Indicators should be collected that anticipate the future and provide baseline data for subsequent trends.
Indicators should help track progress in meeting national goals for child well-being.
The Kids Count project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation is a national and state-by-state effort to track the status of children in the United States through a consistent set of state-level benchmarks. In its 1998 report, the Kids Count Data Book focused on child care. The report included findings related to the demand for child care, its costs, its availability, particularly for parents working nontraditional hours, and quality issues such as turnover rates, crowded or unsafe settings, lack of staff training.
Kids Count noted a pressing need for state-level benchmarks on such critical issues as equity of access to child care within a community across families of different income levels, the stability of child care within a community, and licensed capacity relative to the number of children in families at some designated income level, as well as indicators of the quality of child care. Information in these areas could guide strategic planning at the community and state levels, as well as help to inform policy makers and the public about the adequacy and effectiveness of investments in child care and early childhood services. However, with the exception of data on mothers' labor force participation and caregiver salaries, the Kids Count report was unable to document these issues with consistent state-level indicators (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1998).
In another initiative, the National Governors Association surveyed all governors' offices to determine which states had in recent years established goals and indicators for improving the condition of young children and their families. In response, 41 states said they either had identified goals and measurable indicators or were in the process of doing so (National Governors Association, 1999). Of the measures mentioned in survey responses, several states included the Kids Count data elements and many included health indicators. Some states also cited measures of access to subsidies and access to training, measures of reductions in poverty, parent satisfaction surveys, and a number of mission goals. However, mission statements or goals sometimes lacked measurable indicators, and some indicators were without obvious measurements.
According to workshop presenter Helene Stebbins, National Governors Association, the responses pointed to the need to look at multiple indicators, to examine what resources are being put into programs and
what can really be expected from them. Another issue is whether the process should be voluntary or mandatory and which approach will have the greater impact on improving child care. She concluded by noting that the process is evolutionary. There are now good measures in the health and safety area and accountability for programs, through licensing, for example. As a whole, the early childhood community needs to start collecting new data as appropriate so that lack of data does not undermine development of important measures. For example, child care officials in Missouri decided that the percentage of family income going to out-of-pocket child care expenditures is an important measure, and they have begun efforts to acquire data on this. Regarding the goal of school readiness—how much child care improves the ability of children to learn and flourish—a number of states are doing a variety of assessments; as yet, Stebbins noted, consensus on appropriate measures is still elusive, but efforts to move closer to agreement are apparent.