ERIC Identifier: ED355041
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Multiple Perspectives on the Quality of Early Childhood Programs. ERIC Digest.
The quality of early childhood programs can be assessed in many ways. Most of
the literature on the subject examines quality by identifying selected
characteristics of the setting, equipment, and program as seen by adults. Such
an approach can be called ASSESSMENT OF QUALITY FROM A TOP-DOWN PERSPECTIVE.
Another way to assess the quality of a program is to take what we might call A
BOTTOM-UP PERSPECTIVE by attempting to determine how the program is experienced
by the children. A third strategy, which we could call AN OUTSIDE-INSIDE
PERSPECTIVE, is to assess how the program is experienced by the families it
serves. A fourth perspective is one from the inside, which considers how the
program is experienced by the staff responsible for it.
TOP-DOWN PERSPECTIVE ON QUALITY
The top-down perspective on
quality typically takes into account such program and setting characteristics as
the ratio of adults to children; the qualifications and stability of the staff;
characteristics of adult-child relationships; the quality and quantity of
equipment and materials; the quality and quantity of space per child; the number
of toilets, fire safety provisions, and so forth; health and hygiene procedures
and standards; aspects of working conditions for the staff, etc. There is
substantial evidence to suggest that these program and setting characteristics
do predict some effects of an early childhood program (Howes, et al., 1992).
BOTTOM-UP PERSPECTIVE ON QUALITY
It is reasonable to assume
that the important ultimate effects of a program depend primarily on how it is
viewed from below. If it is true that the child's experience of a program is the
true determinant of the program's effects, assessment of program quality
requires answers to the central question: What does it feel like to be a child
in this environment? This approach makes inferences about how each child would
answer these questions:
Do I usually feel welcome rather than captured?
Do I feel that I belong or am I just one of the crowd?
Do I usually feel accepted, understood, and protected, rather than scolded or
neglected, by the adults?
Am I usually accepted rather than isolated or rejected by the majority of my
Am I usually addressed seriously and respectfully, rather than as someone who is
"precious" or "cute"?
Do I find most of the activities engaging, absorbing, and challenging rather
than just entertaining or exciting?
Do I find most of the experiences meaningful, rather than frivolous or boring?
Do I find most of the experiences satisfying rather than frustrating or
Am I usually glad to be here, rather than eager to leave?
Each question implies a criterion of quality, stated in terms of a continuum
of desirability. When most answers are at the positive end of the continuum, we
can assume that the program's quality is worthy of the children. The criteria of
quality implied in the questions are based on an interpretation of what is known
about significant influences on children's long-term growth, development, and
The older the children served by a program, the longer the time period
required for reliable assessment of the quality of daily life as seen from the
bottom-up. In other words, a good quality program is one in which, from the
bottom-up perspective, experiences are intellectually and socially engaging and
satisfying on most days. Such a program is not dependent on drumming up
occasional exciting special events. Isolated events experienced in early
childhood programs are unlikely to affect long-term development. However,
experiences that may be benign or inconsequential if they are rare, but may be
either harmful or beneficial if they are frequent or repeated, must be addressed
in assessments of program quality (Katz, 1991).
Needless to say, there are many explanations for any answer to the questions
listed above, and a program should not automatically be faulted for negative
answers. (This is true for each set of questions contained in this digest.) Some
of the causes of children's subjective experiences cannot be attributed solely
to caregivers and teachers. This assumption concerning the limits of staff
accountability implies that all staff are qualified and trained to employ the
accepted practices, accumulated knowledge, and wisdom of the profession. This
assumption further implies that the profession has indeed adopted a set of
standards of practice. The field of early childhood education has already taken
important steps in the direction of establishing consensus on standards of
practice through the publication of professional associations' position papers
on major issues. The most comprehensive such paper is that of the National
Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) DEVELOPMENTALLY
APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS SERVING CHILDREN FROM BIRTH
THROUGH AGE 8 (Bredekamp, 1987). NAEYC has also issued position statements on
testing and curriculum content and assessment. NAEYC's National Academy of Early
Childhood Programs and its new National Institute for Early Childhood
Professional Development is working on establishing consensus on professional
standards of practice.
THE OUTSIDE-INSIDE PERSPECTIVE ON QUALITY
assessment of the quality of a program would take into account characteristics
of parent-teacher relationships, and particularly, the answers of each parent
and staff member to such questions as:
Are my relationships with parents or staff:
respectful, rather than patronizing or controlling?
open, inclusive, and tolerant, rather than rejecting, blaming, or prejudiced?
by contacts that are ongoing and frequent, rather than rare and distant?
Are my preferences for the goals and values for the children treated with
Parents are more likely to relate to their child's caregivers and teachers in
positive ways when they understand the complex nature of their jobs, appreciate
what they are trying to accomplish, and are aware of the conditions under which
THE INSIDE PERSPECTIVE ON QUALITY
The quality of an early
childhood program as seen from the inside includes three dimensions: colleague
relationships, staff-parent relationships, and relationships with the sponsoring
RELATIONSHIPS. It is highly unlikely that an early childhood program can be of
high quality unless the staff relationships within it are also of good quality.
An assessment of this aspect of quality would be based on how each member of the
staff answered such questions as:
On the whole, are my relationships with colleagues:
rather than contentious?
rather than competitive?
rather than antagonistic or hostile?
rather than suspicious?
rather than controlling?
Good quality environments cannot be created for children unless the
environments are also good for the adults who work in them. Of course, there may
be some occasions when an environment has been "good" for the children at the
expense of the staff (e.g., birthday parties), and some times when the reverse
is the case; but on the average, a good quality program is one in which children
and adults find the quality of their lives together satisfying.
RELATIONSHIPS. The criteria implied by the questions for the outside-inside
perspective can also be used to assess staff experience. In a country like the
U.S., with a highly mobile and diverse population, it is unlikely that all the
families served by a program are in total agreement on its goals and methods: a
situation that inevitably leads to some level of parental dissatisfaction and
parent-staff friction. The development of respectful and supportive relations
between staff and parents of diverse backgrounds requires staff professionalism
based on a combination of experience, training, education, and personal values.
Certainly parents are more likely to approach teachers positively when teachers
initiate respectful and accepting relationships.
RELATIONSHIPS. One potential indirect influence on the quality of a program is
the nature of the relationships the staff members have with those to whom they
are responsible. It is reasonable to suggest that, in principle, teachers and
caregivers treat children very much the way they themselves are treated by those
they report to. (To be sure, some caregivers and teachers rise above poor
treatment and some fall below being well-treated.) Assessment of quality from
the inside perspective would come from the staff's answers to the following
Are working conditions adequate to encourage me to enhance my knowledge, skills,
and career commitment?
Am I usually treated with respect and understanding?
The approach to the assessment of quality
proposed here raises complex issues that suggest that the early childhood
profession is obliged to develop a set of standards of professional practice.
Answers to the questions posed for each perspective can also be used as a basis
for decisions about modifications to services offered to children and their
families. Each of the perspectives contributes in a different way to an overall
assessment of program quality. However, because not all responses can be
attributed to characteristics of a program, the early childhood profession must
continue to work on developing an accepted set of professional standards of
practice to which practitioners can fairly be held accountable. Any approach to
the assessment of quality requires not only a set of criteria to apply to each
program, but some consensus on the minimum standards for each criterion. A start
has been made on the development of consensus about appropriate practices.
Further discussion of these matters among practitioners, program sponsors and
regulatory agencies, and the membership associations is urgently needed.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredekamp, S., Ed. DEVELOPMENTALLY
APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS SERVING CHILDREN FROM BIRTH
THROUGH AGE 8 (REV. ED.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education
of Young Children, 1987.
Howes, C., Phillips, D.A., and Whitebook, M. "Thresholds of Quality:
Implications for Social Development of Children in Center-based Child Care."
CHILD DEVELOPMENT 63 (1992): 449-60. EJ 443 501.
Katz, L.G. "Pedagogical Issues in Early Childhood Education," in S.L. Kagan,
Ed. THE CARE AND EDUCATION OF AMERICA'S YOUNG CHILDREN: OBSTACLES AND OPPORTUNITIES. NINETIETH YEARBOOK OF THE NATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE STUDY OF EDUCATION. PART I. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. GUIDELINES FOR APPROPRIATE CURRICULUM CONTENT AND ASSESSMENT IN PROGRAMS SERVING CHILDREN AGES 3 THROUGH 8. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1991. ED 426 212.
For information on the societal perspective, which takes into account how the
community and society are served by a program, see the original article from
which this digest was taken: "Early Childhood Programs: Multiple Perspectives on
Quality," in the Winter, 1992 issue of CHILDHOOD EDUCATION (pages 66-71).