Quality Matters (QM), an early childhood initiative begun in the Lakes Region in fall 2002, “provides participants much needed resources and supports to increase their effectiveness in providing quality care for children,” according to Plymouth State University professors Patricia Cantor and Mary Cornish, who recently completed an evaluation of the first phase of the initiative.
Quality Matters is sponsored by Providian Financial, which has partnered with the Lakes Region Community Services Council for implementation of the initiative, and the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund for technical consultation.
The first phase of the program targeted nonaccredited, but licensed child care programs. Participants in phase one included 14 child care centers and five family child care homes, serving approximately 1,000 children.
The goal of Quality Matters is to “foster children’s positive development through improved quality in early childhood settings by supporting self-assessment and quality improvement planning.” QM supports participating child care programs and providers in achieving their goals through a coordinated system of financial initiatives, quality improvement plans, professional development opportunities, peer network groups and technical assistance.
A predominant feature of the QM initiative was the use of environmental quality rating scales that have been used in national research studies. Results of those studies have shown that children who are in child care environments that score higher on the scales 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 indicated that the rating scales enabled them to give specific feedback to which teachers would be receptive.
At a September 27 press conference to announce the project evaluation findings, Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen said, “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.”
Between August 2003 and August 2005, 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.
Cantor, who is chair of the education department at Plymouth State says, “Providian recognized the strong early childhood program at PSU, and University involvement in education issues that is part of our mission as a regional comprehensive 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.”
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 benefit from QM,” the summary of project findings concludes.
Cantor and Cornish will offer a presentation on the Quality Matters program evaluation at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual meeting in Washington D.C. in December. A report based on their findings will be published this fall.