Academic journal article The Future of Children

Quality in Early Education Classrooms: Definitions, Gaps, and Systems

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Quality in Early Education Classrooms: Definitions, Gaps, and Systems

Article excerpt

Summary

Parents, professionals, and policymakers agree that quality is crucial for early education. But precise, consistent, and valid definitions of quality have been elusive. In this article, Robert Pianta, Jason Downer, and Bridget Hamre tackle the questions of how to define quality, how to measure it, and how to ensure that more children experience it.

Definitions of quality in early education, the authors write, generally include four aspects. The first is a program's structural elements, such as length of the school day or teachers' qualifications. The second encompasses general features of the classroom environment, ranging from playground equipment to activities involving staff, children, or parents. Third are the dimensions of teacher-student interactions that children experience directly. Finally, aggregate indices--such as quality rating and improvement systems--combine measurements across types of program elements.

Pianta, Downer, and Hamre find very little evidence that programs' structural features influence children's development. Instead, they zero in on teacher-student interactions--characterized by teachers' sensitivity to individual needs, support for positive behavior, and stimulation of language and cognitive development--as a key indicator of classroom quality that appears to benefit all children from prekindergarten through third grade.

Teachers' interactions with children can be significantly and systematically improved through targeted and sustained professional development. Yet efforts to improve the quality of such interactions at scale and to ensure that quality remains consistent from prekindergarten through third grade have so far been ineffectual. If we accept the evidence that direct experiences within classrooms are the best indicators of program quality, the authors argue, then the next wave of science and policy must refine and advance the definition, measurement, production, and consistency of these experiences in early education.

**********

In this article we describe efforts to define, measure, and promote quality in classrooms that serve young children from preschool to third grade (pre-K-3). Parents, professionals, and policymakers agree that quality is important in early education. But definitions of quality vary. In preschool, many features are bundled together as quality, including adult-child ratios, teachers' qualifications, length of the school day, curriculum and materials, and aspects of teacher-student interaction. In kindergarten to third grade (K-3), quality most often refers to teachers or schools, or is defined in terms of student achievement. The preschool and K-3 systems don't have common definitions, measures, or reference points for discussing quality, and that confuses efforts to increase early education's impact on children's learning. Scholars and educators agree that quality in early education matters, but precise, consistent, and valid definitions have been elusive. We must solve the issues of definition and measurement so that our focus on quality can improve children's development and learning across the critical early years.

Defining Quality in Early Education

Definitions of quality in early education generally include four aspects: a program's structural elements; features of the classroom environment; the dimensions of teacher-student interactions that children experience directly; and aggregate indices, such as quality rating and improvement systems, that combine measurements across types of program elements. Structural elements include the length of the school day, teacher training, and teacher-student ratios; these can be viewed as preconditions that set the stage for more direct experiences that foster children's learning. Features of the classroom environment might include cleanliness, learning and play materials, the daily schedule, and how the setting is arranged. Teacher-child interactions encompass teachers' behavior, language, and emotional warmth and tone as they conduct activities and manage the classroom. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.