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Defining and Assessing Early

Childhood Program Quality


ABSTRACT: In the United States, there is a definition of quality of

early care and education (ECE) programs that is widely accepted in
the early childhood profession. It emphasizes a child-centered ap-
proach to raising children, with caring adults who are kind and gen-
tle rather than restrictive and harsh and who protect childrens
health and safety, while providing a wealth of experiences that lead
to learning through play. According to the definition, individuality
and creativity are encouraged rather than conformity. This definition
is often criticized by those with differing perspectives, but in general,
it appears to be valid for those who value the aspects of development
that are associated with success in the current mainstream American
educational system and society. In this article, the content, rationale,
and criticisms of that definition of quality are presented. Methods
used in its assessment, and information regarding its validity, are

Debby Cryer, Ph.D., is an investigator at the Frank Porter Graham Child Develop-
ment Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and director of the child care
program at the center. She has studied and written about early childhood program
20 years, combining her interests as a practitioner with those of
quality during the past
a researcher, examining real-world issues and translating research findings into prac-

tice for early childhood staff, parents, and policymakers.

NOTE: The work reported herein was partially supported under the Educational Research
and Development Centers Program, PR/Award R307A60004, as administered by the Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. However, the contents
do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the National Institute on Early Childhood
Development and Education, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, or the U.S.
Department of Education, and endorsement by the federal government should not be assumed.



an attempt to define the quality
IN of almost any service, it is obvious
Defining the quality of ECE set-
that subjective values will come into is a complex task, partly due to
play. Just what quality is can be con- tings
the complexity of the ECE system
troversial, depending on what aspect itself. The ECE classroom can be
of the service is being considered and
viewed as being embedded within
who is doing the defining. This is
various spheres of influence, includ-
certainly true when attempts are the center in which the classroom
made to define the quality of early ing
care and education (ECE) environ-
operates as well as the community,
at the local, state, and national lev-
ments, for both center-based class- els. The same can be said for family
rooms and family child care environ-
child care homes. The conditions
ments. The quality of ECE settings
under which a center or family child
can be defined from many perspec-
care provider operates include vari-
tives and can include a variety of in- ables that can influence what chil-
dicators. Any definition is likely to be dren
challenged by those with differing The actual child environment (for
priorities or perspectives. In other example, the classroom or family
words, ECE quality might be child care setting used for children)
viewed as being in the eye of the can be characterized
by both struc-
beholder. tural and process (or dynamic) qual-
Nevertheless, in the United ity features (Phillips and Howes
States, there is a widely accepted 1987). Process quality consists of
definition of ECE classroom quality. those aspects of an ECE setting that
This definition comes under fire children actually
experience in their
quite often and is adapted to meet programs, such as teacher-child and
different emphases with the passing child-child interactions; the types of
of time, but in general it appears to space, activities, and materials avail-
be relatively stable. In this article, I able to children; and how everyday
will discuss the definition of ECE personal care routines, such as
program quality that is currently meals, toileting, or rest, are handled.
widely accepted in the American Children directly experience these
early childhood profession. The processes, which are thought to have
rationale and content of this defini- an influence on their well-being and
tion, and methods used in its assess- developmental outcomes (Peisner-
ment, will be presented. In addition, Feinberg and Burchinal 1997;
attention will be given to common Whitebook, Howes, and Phillips
criticisms of the definition. This will 1990).
be followed by information on the Structural quality consists of
validity of the definition, including inputs to process-characteristics
the relation between ECE quality that create the framework for the
and childrens development and processes that children actually
between ECE process and structural experience. These characteristics are
quality. part of the setting used by children

and also the environment that sur- thought to most directly affect chil-
rounds that setting, such as a center drens development in child care.
or community. Examples of struc-
tural quality variables include mea- Defining early
sures of group size, adult-child childhood process quality
ratios, and the education and experi- In definingECE process quality,
ence of the teachers or the director of
early childhood professionals have
a program. Originally, structural
depended heavily on practitioners
quality variables represented concepts of best practice and, when-
aspects of ECE that are considered ever possible, on findings from child
amenable to regulation (Phillips and
Howes 1987). However, the defini-
development research. The defini-
tion is often thought of as a best bet
tion has expanded to include vari-
for positive child development in
ables, such as staff wages, teacher areas that are associated with tradi-
turnover, or parent fees, which are tional success in later schooling as
not particularly regulatable in the
well as in later life in the mainstream
mixed market system of child care U.S. democratic and capitalist soci-
that presently exists in the United
ety. The definition emphasizes prac-
States (Phillipsen et al. 1997). tices that are assumed to encourage
It is possible to evaluate both the
language; intellectual and physical
structural and process quality of an
abilities; social competence, includ-
ECE system. For example, in the
ing a balance of independence and
article by Tietze and Cryer describ-
cooperation; as well as emotional
ing quality of European ECE in this well-being. It is characterized by a
volume, much of the discussion child-centered approach to raising
relates to the quality of the struc-
children, emphasizing childrens
tures available to support classroom
play and interactions with materials
quality, rather than to the more and peers as the primary means of
proximal features of classroom qual- attaining developmental goals. It
ity that children experience. In this requires a safe environment that
article, my concern is with defining encourages good health. In this defi-
and evaluating process quality-the nition, the adults role is to act as a
quality of what children experience facilitator of childrens enriched play
directly, either in child care centers and to provide protection, positive
or in family child care homes. The
attention, access to information,
quality definition discussed here resources, support, and guidance. In
does not include important, but more practice, this means that adults in
distal, factors that will also affect high-quality programs are very nice
children but in a less direct way, such to the children (but certainly not
as the availability or affordability of
totally permissive), rather than
programs to families, the effective- being negative, harsh, restrictive,
ness of regulatory standards, or the punitive, or uninterested. They
overall family policy of a nation. My introduce children to a wealth of safe
discussion focuses on those aspects of and healthful experiences to provide
ECE program quality that are vast opportunities for learning.

There are various versions of the Whatever the setting, family child
definition of ECE quality, but in gen- in a center, the same com-
care or care
eral all share the same major tenets, ponents of quality are addressed.

differing only in the details. The core This is because it is believed that
elements that are recognized as be- children need the same basics for
ing necessary for childrens positive positive development, whether they
development are are at home, in family child care, or in
center-based programs. For example,
safe care, with diligent adult su- the National Association for the Edu-
pervision that is appropriate for cation of Young Children (NAEYC)
childrens ages and abilities; has developed quality criteria for
safe toys; safe equipment; and center-based early childhood pro-
safe furnishings; grams (NAEYC 1984, 1991a, 1998a).
- healthful care, where children There are also quality criteria for
have opportunities for activity, family child care (Family Child Care
rest, developing self-help skills
Quality Criteria Project 1995; Modi-
in cleanliness, and having theirgliani and Bromer 1997). These crite-
nutritional needs met; ria were developed with input from

developmentally appropriate many constituents in the respective

stimulation, where children professions. Although the family
have choices of opportunities child care home and center-based
for play and learning in a vari- ECE settings might appear to be very
ety of areas such as language; different, when the two quality defi-
creativity through art, music, nitions are closely examined, there is
and dramatic play; fine and significant overlap, and the themes
gross motor skills; numeracy; of these core elements are found in
and nature or science; both, with only some of the details
-positive interactions with differing. Whatever the setting, it is
adults, where children can believed that children require the
trust, learn from, and enjoy the same kinds of basic inputs for devel-
adults who care for and educate opmental success, although there is
them; room for some flexibility in the de-

-promoting individual emo- tails.

tional growth, encouraging chil- Interestingly, the quality ele-
dren to operate independently, ments previously listed appear to
cooperatively, securely, and cross international borders. The
competently; and points represented in NAEYCs
-promoting positive relation- accreditation criteria (1984, 1991a,
ships with other children, al- 1998a) overlap substantially with
lowing children to interact with the view of quality presented in the
their peers, with the environ- European Unions ECE quality defi-
mental supports and adult nition (Belageur, Mestres, and Penn
guidance required to help inter- 1992) as well as with the view of qual-
actions go smoothly. ity presented in the World Health

Organizations Child Care Facility many fronts. It has been viewed as

Schedule (World Health Organiza- being far less relevant for programs
tion 1990). In addition, parents of serving minority cultures than for
children in U.S. ECE programs value the white middle class. Powell (1994)
similar aspects of quality. Mitchell, notes that its emphasis on a child-
Cooperstein, and Larner (1992) centered teaching approach is in con-
report that parents views of quality trast to the more didactic teaching
are centered around ensuring their that is preferred by many lower-
childrens health and safety and posi- income, ethnic-minority parents.
tive interactions with the teacher. Williams (1994) explains that the
Browne Miller (1990) reports that child-centered approach, where the
parents see staff warmth, a good edu- child is encouraged to develop as an
cational program, social activities, individual, would also not apply well
and physical activities as being to many Native American children,
important aspects of quality. Cryer where the development of the indi-
and Burchinal (1997) report that vidual is not as important as the rela-
parents of infants, toddlers, and pre- tionship of the individual to the
schoolers indicate that issues related group and where knowledge is not
to health, safety, and adult-child seen to be individually constructed
interactions were the most impor- but socially constructed. Others
tant in terms of quality for their chil- judge the definition as inadequate in
dren and that curriculum aspects of terms of meeting the needs of chil-
care were also very important. Of dren with disabilities, who often
course, in terms of structural quality, require more exacting teaching
parents also indicate the high impor- strategies than do typically develop-
tance of accessibility and affordabil- ing children (Atwater et al. 1994).
ity in child care, which represents Despite such criticisms, when the
their very realistic concerns. But this arguments are carefully examined,
does not detract from parents desire they are usually found to be focused
for positive experiences for their chil- on relatively small components of the
dren while in child care. larger construct, not on the core ele-
Criticisms of the mainstream ments. Thus the definition can some-
quality definition are abundant. times be adapted to incorporate
They range from arguments about changes, but the core, as a whole,
the inappropriateness of one small does not really change radically. In
detail in the definition to much fact, the concept of developmentally
broader complaints. A good example appropriate practice has recently
of the range of criticisms is seen in been revised (Bredekamp 1997) to
the responses to NAEYCs version of incorporate input from various seg-
the widely accepted definition of ments of the profession. The defini-
quality early childhood programs. A tion, however, still maintains its
major component of NAEYCs defini- basic identity. It is likely that dis-
tion of quality known as &dquo;develop- agreements about the content of the
mentally appropriate practice&dquo; (Bre- definition will continue, and ongoing
dekamp 1987) has been attacked on efforts will be required to update the

definition in response to input from With all the differing perspectives

various critics. on what is and is not early childhood
In some cases, the mainstream program quality, it becomes espe-
quality definition is rejected, with no cially important to examine relation-
sign of a possible compromise in ships between child outcomes and
viewpoint. Moss (1994) argues that the practices that are used in raising
early childhood program quality is a children in out-of-home care set-
relative concept, not an objective tings. Perhaps the real question is
reality, and that definitions change not, What is quality? but rather,
over time, according to values, What outcomes are produced under
beliefs, needs, and other require- this definition of quality? Depending
ments of the various stakeholders on the desired outcomes, the answer
involved. Thus quality must be con- to the question What is quality? will
tinually redefined, and only through then become apparent.
a process of definition will any result For example, if the definer of ECE
be accepted by the constituents for process quality wants to ensure that
whom it was created. This relativis- children learn to communicate well,
tic approach questions the validity of there might be several alternatives
the mainstream process quality defi- for what a quality definition might
nition and, at the extreme, whether include to encourage that outcome.
there can ever be agreement on any From the point of view of U.S. main-
one definition. Perhaps this perspec- stream ECE quality, children would
tive can be best understood in terms need to be in an environment where
of how the religious Right in the conversations take place frequently,
United States seems to view the where childrens talk is encouraged,
mainstream definition of ECE qual- and where there are many things to
ity child care. Here we see values talk about. It is thought to be
that appear to be in substantial con- unlikely that children would learn to
flict with those of the early childhood communicate well when the environ-
profession. The religious Right ment does not provide these opportu-
emphasizes &dquo;spare the rod, spoil the nities. (This definition is supported
child&dquo; and ensuring that young chil- by research findings.) However,
dren learn religious information there are other perspectives about
rather than the more authoritative, how to bring about good child com-
developmental approach that is rep- munication. For example, a more
resented in the mainstream defini- didactic approach is sometimes
tion. An adaptation of the U.S. main- thought to be effective (although not
stream definition to incorporate supported by research findings),
these values would not be very possi- where children practice talking and
ble, although it is still likely that in listening under more structured con-
the end, a definition of quality devel- ditions such as those where memory
oped by the religious Right might drills and recitation tasks are
still overlap with the mainstream emphasized and where natural child
definition in some areas, such as conversations are restricted. Of
health or safety. course, it cannot be forgotten that

there will be some for whom learning The overlap in all instruments
to communicate well is not an impor- assessing process quality is over-
tant consideration in raising chil- whelming, and demonstrates the
dren. But any definition of ECE pro- widespread agreement on an ECE
cess quality is only an assumption quality definition in the United
until it has been tested for validity States. However, the instruments
(that is, do children learn to commu- vary in scope and differ in the details.
nicate better under these condi- The content and format of the most
tions ?). If relationships between the widely used global assessments, as
definition and the desired outcomes well as two examples of instruments
are found, then the definition that assess the quality of far more
becomes valid for those who value specific aspects of process quality,
that outcome. will be described in this article. Some
instruments evaluate ECE quality
for all children in a group, while oth-
PROCESS QUALITY ers attempt to evaluate the quality

experienced by an individual child.

In order to validate any definition All of the instruments discussed here
of ECE process quality, the definition have been tested to ensure statistical
must first be operationalized so that reliability. For example, all have
the extent to which it is being imple- acceptable interrater reliability,
mented in practice can be measured. indicating that the measures have
Various measures for the specifica- been designed to produce similar
tion and evaluation of the main- scores when used by different
stream definition of ECE process observers.
quality have been developed in the One series of environment rating
past 20 years. Each represents a ver- scales has been highlighted in the
sion of process quality that is larger child care quality studies of
assumed to produce specific child the decade (Helburn 1995; Galinsky
outcomes. Some have been used in et al. 1994; Scarr, Eisenberg, and
research, while many were designed Deater-Deckard 1994; Whitebook,
to evaluate and improve program Howes, and Phillips 1990). These
quality. All the procedures discussed scales comprehensively assess the
here require direct observation of quality of ECE experienced by
children and adults in ECE settings preschool-age children (Early Child-
during times of child activity. In hood Environment Rating Scale
addition, a staff interview or review [ECERS] ) (Harms and Clifford
of documents to collect information 1980), infants and toddlers
on unobserved requirements may be (Infant/Toddler Environment Rating
needed to supplement observations. Scale [ITERS] ) (Harms, Cryer, and
Global process quality assessments Clifford 1990), and children in family
are used to document the overall child care (Family Day Care Rating
physical and learning quality of an Scale [FDCRS] ) (Harms and Clifford
ECE environment, as opposed to 1989). The scales measure quality as
more specific assessments of quality. experienced by all children in a

specific group. The ECERS

original 1994). Like the scales by Harms and
has recently been revised colleagues described earlier, the pro-
(ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford, and fileassesses quality experienced for

Cryer 1998) to represent new find- all children in a group. There is a

ings from research and to address family day care version of the profile
issues related to meeting the needs of that has been used extensively as the
children with disabilities and chil- observation instrument to assess
dren from diverse families. The revi- accreditation requirements of the
sion represents the constantly National Family Day Care Associa-
changing details in ECE quality defi- tion. The profile consists of a
nitions but maintains the same basic presence-absence checklist of about
principles found in the original 150 items, arranged in components
ECERS. for administration, preschool, infant,
Each scale provides a score of over- and school-age. Subscales for the
all global process quality and con- preschool, infant, and school-age
sists of about 30-40 items organized groups include safety and health,
into categories that vary somewhat learning environment, scheduling,
depending on which scale is being curriculum, interacting, and indi-
used. Each scale includes items on vidualizing. These vary somewhat
personal care routines, furnishings depending on the age group that is
and display for children, language being evaluated. For example, a
experiences, learning activities, nutrition subscale is included for
social development, interactions, groups of infants but not for the older
and adult needs. It should be noted groups. Subscales for the adminis-
that, in most research, the calcula- tration component include physical
tion of a process quality score does facilities, food service, program man-
not include items in the adult needs agement, personnel, and program
subscale, since these are considered development. Besides observation
indicators of structural rather than and an interview with the teacher,
process quality. In all three instru- reviewing certain documents to score
ments, items are presented as a some items is required. Ideally, an
seven-point scale with quality observation should take place to
descriptors anchoring four points: include a variety of typical classroom
1 (inadequate), 3 (minimal), 5 (good), events (such as meals, learning
and 7 (excellent). Scoring is based activities, outdoor play, and so on). A
primarily on what is observed during total score is calculated by summing
a period of two or three hours when the number of yes responses.
the children are most actively The NAEYC Accreditation Instru-
involved, usually during the ments (NAEYC 1985, 1991b, 1998b)
morning. were developed to be used in the self-
The Assessment Profile for Early study process that programs undergo
Childhood Programs (Abbott-Shim when applying for accreditation. The
and Sibley 1987) has also been used instruments are also used by valida-
in a major research study (Scarr, tors who confirm the information
Eisenberg, and Deater-Deckard presented by a program that has

completed the self-study. The instru- The ORCE requires both frequency
ments are based completely on the counts and qualitative ratings of
NAEYC Accreditation Criteria, caregiver behaviors from trained
which were operationalized for observers. Items requiring frequency
assessment purposes. The instru- counts of care behaviors include
ments have been revised twice to rep- more positive behaviors such as
resent changes in the criteria based sharing positive interactions with
on input from various constituents in the child (such as laughing, smiling,
the profession. The complete self- or cooing together), providing posi-
study assessment includes both tive physical contact, or doing activi-
structural and process measures. ties such as reading or playing a
The process quality items are found social game. Neutral behaviors are
in the Early Childhood Classroom also counted, such as providing
Observation section of the materials. physical care to the child. More nega-
This observation consists of 71 items tive interactions, such as speaking
grouped in the following sections: negatively to the child or restricting
interactions between teachers and the child, are counted as well. Quali-
children; curriculum; physical envi- tative ratings are made on aspects of
ronment ; health and safety; and care such as how sensitive or respon-

nutrition. Items are scored on a sive the caregiver is to the child or

3-point scale, with 3 indicating that how intrusive the caregiver is.
the requirement has been fully met. More specific definitions of pro-
Observations are meant to take place cess quality have been operational-
when children are actively involved, ized, often to assess the nature of
for a period of at least one hour in a teacher interactions with children.
classroom. Scores for each item are The Caregiver Interaction Scale
considered individually, so no total (CIS) (Arnett 1989) yields four
score is calculated. However, it is scores: sensitivity (warm, attentive,
possible to sum all scores for a total and engaged); harshness (critical,
classroom score. threatens children, and punitive);
A more recently developed mea- detachment (low levels of interac-
sure of ECE quality, the Observa- tion, interest, and supervision); and
tional Record of the Caregiving Envi- permissiveness. The Teacher
ronment (ORCE) (NICHD 1996), was Involvement Scale (TIS) (Howes and
developed for use in a major study of Stewart 1987) allows an observer to
infant care and development. The code the nature of a teachers
ORCE measures quality of ECE as involvement with a child every 20
experienced by a single child, and it seconds whenever a teacher is within
can be applied in different types of three feet of the target child. The six
settings because it focuses on the scale points range from ignore, to
caregivers behaviors with a specific routine (touches the child for routine
child rather than on what happens in care such as feeding or toileting,
a classroom or other ECE setting. It without any verbal interaction), to
was developed for use with infants. minimal, then simple, elaborative,

and finally intense (engaging a child assumption about what is good for
in conversation or actively playing children until it has been securely
with the child). tied to the outcomes one would
expect it to produce. There have been
RESULTS FROM RESEARCH many studies, both large and small,
USING PROCESS QUALITY that examine the extent to which a
ASSESSMENT MEASURES relationship exists between the
widely held ECE process quality defi-
Research during the last 20 years nition and childrens development
(for example, Helburn 1995; Galin- outcomes. An in-depth summary of
sky et al. 1994; Roupp et al. 1979; findings that relate quality to out-
Whitebook, Howes, and Phillips comes will be found in Burchinal
1990) has examined variations in (this volume). Here I briefly describe
child care quality, according to the findings that demonstrate the valid-
mainstream ECE quality definition. ity of the process quality definition
The focus of the research has been to that has been discussed in this
determine the status of ECE pro- article.
gram quality in the United States, to The National Child Care Staffing
examine the relations between struc-
Study (Whitebook, Howes, and Phil-
tural quality and process quality,
lips 1990), in which the ECERS,
and to present the implications of ITERS, CIS, and TIS were used, indi-
varying quality in terms of childrens cates a relation between aspects of
well-being. Most of the research has quality and positive child develop-
defined childrens positive outcomes ment outcomes. Results from this
in terms of the developmental areas
study linked better levels of develop-
that are associated with future ment to higher-quality care and
school success, with the assumption teachers positive behaviors. For
that school success will lead to
example, children were found to
greater chances for adult success in spend more time in purposeful play
the majority society. This research rather than aimless wandering when
has provided validity for the main- teachers were more responsive and
stream definition of process quality had more intense interactions with
while discovering the status of chil-
children. In addition, children had
drens developmental outcomes in
ECE programs in the United States.
higher language development scores
when they had teachers who took
part in better teacher-child interac-
Relationship between tions and provided more appropriate
process quality definitions caregiving (102). The Cost, Quality
and child outcomes
and Child Outcomes in Child Care
The validity of a process quality Centers study (Peisner-Feinberg and
definition is best found in its rela- Burchinal 1997) found that the qual-
tionship to the outcomes desired for ity of center-based care was related
children. When defining &dquo;process to preschool childrens concurrent
quality,&dquo; the definition can be only an development across all domains

studied, including receptive lan- measured using the ITERS. The TIS
guage, pre-academic skills, class- has been found to predict child devel-
room behaviors, attitudes toward opmental outcomes (Howes and
child care, and perceptions of compe- Stewart 1987; Whitebook, Howes,
tence. All of these are considered and Phillips 1990). Specifically, it
important for later success in school. has been found to differentiate
These analyses adjusted for family between children who behave as if
factors and included children from they were securely attached to their
diverse family backgrounds. In addi- caregivers and children who behave
tion, the results provided evidence as if they were insecurely attached
that children who might be consid- (Howes and Hamilton 1992). This is
ered at risk for school failure, espe- considered important because it has
cially children from less advantaged been found that children who are
backgrounds, were more susceptible securely attached to their caregivers
to the effects of child care quality, are more likely to demonstrate social
while no children were protected competence with peers (Howes,
from the effects of low-quality care by Matheson, and Hamilton 1994).
more advantaged family back- Higher scores on the CIS have been
grounds. The NICHD Early Child related to more positive child care
Care Research Network (1996) stud- teachers involvement with children
ied children during the first three and to better childrens language
years of life and found that higher development and attachment secu-
child care quality was related to bet- rity (Whitebook, Howes, and Phillips
ter mother-child relationships, fewer 1990).
reports of childrens behavior prob- Results for family child care set-
lems, higher cognitive and language tings are similar to those found for
outcomes, and better readiness for center-based care. The Study of Chil-
school. dren in Family Child Care and Rela-
These findings are supported by tive Care (Galinsky et al. 1994) found
numerous smaller studies, which are
that homes were positively related to
described in various reviews of the
various better child care outcomes
literature (such as Doherty 1991).
where providers were more sensi-
Generally, the literature indicates tive, where they were responsive to
that higher-quality child care set-
the needs of children, and where the
tings result in higher scores on mea- homes were rated as good or ade-
sures of language and social develop-
ment for the children enrolled in quate on the FDCRS.
those settings, even allowing for fam- Information on the long-term
effects of child care of varying quality
ily characteristics. In a recent study
(Burchinal et al. 1996), it was found is more limited due to the complicat-
that even when controlling for the ing factor that children are in multi-
quality of infants home learning ple child care settings over time.
environments, the development of There are indications, however, that
infants was significantly related to social gains in child care carry into
the quality of their child care as the school years (Zaslow 1991).

Status of U.S. child quality

care are similar to those found in other
studies using these instruments in
Access to higher-quality child care
other states, where average quality
obviously makes a significant contri- levels were also
bution to the positive development of rarely found in the
children. But the same studies previ- good range (Scarr, Eisenberg, and
Deater-Deckard 1994; Whitebook,
ously reported also show that this
access is rarely available to most
Howes, and Phillips 1990).
One assumption in the early child-
children in child care. In attempting
hood field has been that higher pro-
to determine the status of U.S. child
cess quality is more likely to be found
care in terms of process quality, find-
in nonprofit, rather than for-profit,
ings have shown that good care is child care programs. This assump-
rarely found. In addition, there is tion
was supported by findings from
great variation in the quality found,
with a few programs providing very Whitebook, Howes, and Phillips
1990. However, the relationship
good ECE while many others provide
ECE of much lower quality. The between sector and process quality is

Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes actually more complicated than

study (Cost, Quality and Child Out- originally shown. Helburn and col-
comes 1995), for example, used com- leagues (1995) found no differences
bined scores from the ECERS, in process quality scores between
ITERS, CIS, and TIS to measure for-profit and nonprofit programs in
global process quality in child care California, Connecticut, and Colo-
centers in four states (California, rado, but in North Carolina, where
Connecticut, Colorado, and North child care regulations were less
Carolina) and concluded that care stringent, for-profit centers did pro-
provided in most centers in the vide lower quality than nonprofit
United States is of mediocre quality, programs did. Further analyses
with infant and toddler care being of showed that nonprofit programs
the poorest quality. Mediocre care is tended to provide higher quality
the condition that most older pre- than for-profit programs did, except
schoolers in child care experience for nonprofit centers run by churches
and is defined as care in which chil- (excluded from the Whitebook,
drens basic needs for health and Howes, and Phillips analyses), which
safety are met, some warmth and provide quality similar to that found
support is provided by adults, and in the for-profit sector.
some learning experiences are pro- Family child care study results
vided. Poor care, which character- tend to be similar to those found for
ized almost half of the infant and tod- center-based care. The most recent
dler rooms, included problems in major study be completed in the
basic sanitary conditions related to context of family child care (Galinsky
diapering and feeding; safety-related et al. 1994) used the FDCRS, CIS,
problems; lack of warm, supportive and TIS to assess process quality. In
relationships with adults; and lack of this study, it was found that few
materials required for physical and homes (9 percent) had high scores
intellectual growth. These findings (less than &dquo;good&dquo;) on the FDCRS, the

majority (56 percent) fell into the Although the associations

adequate or custodial range, and a between structural and process qual-
substantial number were scored as ity are still not fully understood,
being of low quality (35 percent). research continues to clarify the rela-
tionship. For example, it has been
The relation between recently shown that the effects of the
structural and process quality many structural features of ECE pro-
Research has also examined grams are highly interwoven and
that no one structural variable
which structural features have the
strongest association with process strongly accounts for differences in
process quality. Cryer and colleagues
quality. The practical intent of this (1998) have shown that when exam-
research has been to help policymak-
ers and practitioners know where to ining the variance in process quality
focus quality improvement efforts. accounted for by any specific struc-
Results have been reasonably consis- tural variable, much of its power of
tent across various studies but not
association is actually shared with
other variables. For example, in
overwhelmingly strong. Higher lev- these analyses, wages appeared to be
els of teacher education, fewer chil-
one of the stronger predictors of pro-
dren per teacher, and better teacher
cess quality in the United States, but
wages have been significant predic-
tors of process quality (for example, further examination of the influence
of this variable showed that wages
Phillipsen et al. 1997; Whitebook,
Howes, and Phillips 1990). Thus it actually accounted for 4 percent of
comes as no surprise that centers in the unique and 15 percent of the com-
states where regulation is more mon variance in ECERS scores. In
other words, most of the association
stringent regarding ratios and
teacher education have, on average, between wages and process quality
better process quality scores (Hel- was shared with other structural

burn 1995). The positive effect of variables and was not unique only to
regulation is also clear when examin- wages. Blau (1997) also showed that
ing its relation to family child care results of past analyses can be ques-
process quality. Galinsky and col- tioned and that there is no strong
leagues (1994) found that providers obvious answer for policymakers
who are regulated by their states are when considering how to create regu-
more sensitive to children and offer lation that will improve ECE quality.
more responsive care than nonregu- Thus it is most likely that to improve
lated family child care providers or process quality, many structures
relatives of the children. In addition, must be considered simultaneously
while only 13 percent of regulated rather than just a few. For example,
family child care homes were found highly qualified or well-paid teach-
to be inadequate when assessed ers can do only so much to provide

using the FDCRS, 50 percent of non- high-quality programs for children if

regulated homes and 69 percent of they do not have appropriate space,
relative care environments were in materials, equipment, and adminis-
the inadequate range. trative support. Obviously, a broad

range of structural supports must be poor to mediocre care and education,

provided if we wish to increase the which is related to poorer child devel-
availability of higher ECE process opment outcomes, while only a few
quality in the United States. receive ECE that actively encour-
ages success in our society. There is
SUMMARY great diversity in the quality of pro-
grams to which families have access,
It is true that the quality of ECE providing unequal opportunity for
programs can be considered to be in children to have the same chances to
the eye of the beholder. The priorities come to school ready to learn.

of those who define quality will deter- For those who do not accept the
mine any quality definition. How- current, widely accepted definition of
ever, for process quality definitions ECE quality, either because of small
to have validity, it must be shown differences in the details or because
that they are associated with the out- of their relativistic perspective, it is
comes that are desired for children. important that they create alterna-
In the United States and even tive measures of quality that are
beyond, the early childhood profes- proven to be valid. Parents, practi-
sion has come to a significant consen- tioners, policymakers, and other
sus in establishing what is required interested constituents need to
for high-quality programs. The pri- understand how the implementation
orities in this definition of quality of a definition will affect childrens
include safe and healthful care, development, both at present and in
developmentally appropriate stimu- the long term. Of course, this will
lation, positive interactions with require careful research, but
adults, encouragement of individual assumptions about child-rearing
emotional growth, and promotion of practices are insufficient. Those who
positive relationships with other raise young children need to fully
children. The various versions of this understand the strengths and draw-
definition may differ in the details, backs to any practices they use to
but few would argue that these pri- optimize childrens prospects for the
orities are not necessary for the posi- future.
tive development of young children.
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