Thursday, September 1, 2011

Times They Are A Changing

It has been a long-time since I last wrote in this blog and a lot is happening in Early Childhood Education in Colorado.  There is work being done at the state level to create a new Quality Rating Improvement System, new licensing standards for center-based Early Learning programs, and the state is going to submit for one of the Challenge Grants that the Obama administration has authorized.  It is an exciting time to be in ECE, and a scary time. Programs are unsure of what all of these changes will mean for them, and often wonder if their voice will even be heard.  The proposed changes to licensing are one such change that is creating both excitement and fear, and is garnering national attention from news outlets such as ABC, Fox, and the Washington Times. 

Some news outlets are reporting this as child care providers complaining about the cost of having to buy crayons and dolls, and while that is a reason for some I am sure, it is not the most common reason that many, both inside and outside, of the Early Learning field are wary of the proposed changes.  Crayons and dolls are cheap, and most Early Learning programs, in general, are in favor of regulations governing their operations in order to create a level playing field and to protect the health and safety of all children. What is concerning about the proposed rules and regulations is the micromanaging of every detail in the operations of Early Learning programs, and the impact this will have on program's ability to meet the needs and values of the families and children they serve.  These regulations include having 3 races of dolls, 10 of the same type of art supply, and 6 blocks, but quality is not having crayons, 3 races of dolls, or 6 blocks in the classroom. The outcomes for children in Waldorf and Montessori programs demonstrate that blocks and pictures on the wall are not the key to quality.
Quality should not be something that parents need to shop around for- it should be a foregone conclusion, but the key to quality comes from responsive, individualized care that reflects the values, desires, and needs of the child and family.  Since no single program can be all things to all families, parents (regardless of income) should have access to a variety of programs so they can find one that is a good fit for them and their child to support  positive relationships between the providers, parents, and children.  These relationships make all the difference in outcomes, and we will only get consistency with positive outcomes for children when there is a well-paid, well-educated, stable work force caring for young children. Detailed regulations for stuff cannot and will not create positive relationships between Early Learning professionals, children, and families.

Programs will take the detailed regulations and they will throw those materials into the classroom, but in many cases, they will not know what to do with them.  Anyone who has worked directly with programs knows of this phenomenon first hand.  Yes, the programs meet the material requirements for the Environment Rating Scales, but they do not know how to use the materials or why they were there.  The materials are there because the teacher had been told to put them there, and consequently the children gain little from their presence.

What we need to create instead are Early Learning programs that offer intentional, reflective care for children, and honor the unique circumstances, culture, and family that each child is born into.  Not cookie-cutter programs that make us all feel good because the classrooms look like a catalog, but are devoid of anything more substantive than that.  A one-size fits all approach is the type of thinking that has lead to the proliferation of charter schools and calls for voucher programs in the K-12 system, and it will ultimately have the same effect for Early Learning.

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