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5 Top Takeaways from the Conversation: Strengthening Systems by Embedding Equity when Defining Quality

On Tuesday, August 9, the Hunt Institute hosted the third and final conversation of the series on the early childhood workforce, in partnership with Bank Street College of Education. Dan Wuori, senior director of early learning at the Hunt Institute, opened the panel and moderated the conversion along with Bank Street’s Emily Sharrock. (Discover Bank Street’s Learning Starts at Birth research.)

The following experts shared their perspectives on the flaws inherent in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and how to build better, more equitable systems:

Here are our 5 takeaways:

1. ‘Quality’ lacks a unified definition. “High-quality learning experiences are essential for fostering healthy child development,” Sharrock said, but we shouldn’t pretend we all define quality the same way. Every state in the U.S. has its own child care system, and no two use the same definition. Within states, different stakeholders differ in how they define the term. “It is important to find clarity on what measures of quality are meaningful to you,” said Park, adding that family, friend and neighbor (FFN) care is often overlooked in standard formulations or derided as a last resort.

2. QRIS is flawed. Alternatives exist. QRIS, which originated in the 1990s, was a top-down phenomenon by design, neglecting to listen to and learn from the educators devoting their professional lives to child development. Immigrant and bilingual learning environments have, in particular, been given short shrift.

Redefining quality, Curenton said, demands a pivot from ratings to a “cycle of improvement.” She described the Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale, which addresses “the ways in which interactions between teachers and students, or among students themselves, are equitable, anti-biased and culturally responsive.”

Gupta celebrated the shared ownership achieved through the Inclusive Classroom Profile pioneered by Elena Soukakou, which evaluates the quality of interactions within the learning environment.

👉 Read more: The Quality Trap

3. Inclusion should be integrated into every system. Today’s teachers are being resourceful, innovative and effective, and however you define quality, there should be more opportunities to validate and honor their work, Figueras-Daniel stated.

Park urged participants to prioritize language access and cultural responsiveness, and to recognize that educators’ practices and insights are valuable, even if—especially if—they don’t speak English well, don’t have formal education or have undocumented immigration status.

👉 Read more: An ecological approach to measuring social inclusion

4. Professional development promotes equity. Historically left out of the quality conversation, the culturally and linguistically diverse workforce isn’t a problem to be solved. It has an important role to play in this process—especially in this time of acute teacher shortages.

Figueras-Daniel’s research in New Jersey has found teachers don’t feel empowered to use children’s home language in the classroom. She sees considerable room for improvement in making teachers feel their experience is valued, and stressed the importance of equipping teachers with the resources to make their own decisions about how they want their practice to grow. Park envisions more realistic career ladders.

👉 Read more: Evidence of support for dual language learners in a study of bilingual staffing patterns using the Classroom Assessment of Supports for Emergent Bilingual Acquisition (CASEBA)

5. Brave conversations like this will lead to change. The pandemic and racial reckoning of the past few years give us an opportunity to take a new look at the systems in which young children are learning.

Huge problems come with the segregation that exists in early childhood education. A racially equitable system, Curenton said, will address access, quality and the workforce in new ways. The title of her recent book co-authored with Iheoma Iruka sums up the approach needed to reinvent our systems: Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms.

👉 Read more: “Nadie nos han preguntado…” (Nobody has asked us…)

Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

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