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Over the past two years, members of the PSU education faculty evaluated the first phase of the Quality Matters (QM) program for Lakes Region child care facilities. QM “provides participants much needed resources and support to increase their effectiveness in providing quality care for children,” according to researchers Patricia Cantor, professor of education and chair of PSU’s education department, and Mary Cornish, associate professor of early childhood education.
QM is sponsored by Providian Financial, which partners with the Lakes Region Community Services Council to implement the initiative, and the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund for technical consultation. This initial phase of the program focused on non-accredited but licensed child care programs, including 14 child care centers and five family child care homes, serving approximately 1,000 children.
Cantor says, “Providian recognized the strong early childhood program at PSU and University involvement in education issues that is part of our mission as a comprehensive regional university. In addition, Dr. Cornish is particularly experienced in programmatic evaluation of education reform initiatives. Applied research opportunities such as designing and implementing the QM evaluation inform our teaching and provide curriculum content ideas and opportunities for academic scholarship.”
QM supports participating child care programs and providers through a coordinated system of financial initiatives, quality improvement plans, professional development opportunities, peer network groups and technical assistance. QM uses environmental quality rating scales; national research studies have shown that in child care environments scoring higher on the scales, children are more likely to develop skills related to school success. The evaluators concluded that using the environmental scales provided participants with a manageable means for making improvements. Directors agreed that the rating scales helped them give specific feedback to which teachers would be receptive.
Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen notes, “To have an evaluation of this component done by such a reputable university is so critical to our efforts to provide quality programming for our children.” He said the evaluation would be used before the legislature to “show the impact of what quality education means to the children of the state.”
Cantor and Cornish conducted focus groups and surveyed and interviewed more than 100 family child care providers, center teachers, directors, owners and QM staff and developers. They also reviewed program documentation and analyzed pre- and post-data from observations of more than 75 classrooms.
Key findings reveal a significant increase in rating scale scores of environmental quality in Quality Matters classrooms. “Participants share a great sense of pride associated with their involvement in QM. They believe it sets them apart from other programs. Some participants report that other child care providers regard them with envy and wish they could have the opportunity to benefit from QM,” conclude Cantor and Cornish.—Betsy Cheney