Research Report

Child Care Providers’ Reflections on Quality Improvement

District of Columbia Child Care Policy Research Partnership Study

As of 2017, 49 states and the District of Columbia were devoting public resources to implement quality rating and improvement systems (QRISs) designed to support early care and education (ECE) quality and families’ selection of ECE programs. The idea is that supporting ECE quality and publicly posting ratings will lead to improved quality and help parents find quality care.

In 2018, DC launched a new QRIS, Capital Quality. Licensed child development facilities in the District with a signed agreement with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for subsidized child care were automatically enrolled in Capital Quality over a two-year period. Other licensed child development facilities have been encouraged to participate as volunteers. Capital Quality

  • provides direct coaching to center directors and lead caregivers in licensed homes to support them in their work to improve the quality of their ECE services;
  • offers professional development for child care providers and select staff;
  • gives providers access to funding for materials and infrastructure improvements;
  • incentivizes providers with tiered subsidy reimbursement rates, so providers at higher quality levels receive higher rates;
  • provides third-party independent observers, not affiliated with Capital Quality implementation, who produce valid and reliable ratings using standard observation measures; and
  • posts information on facility quality on a publicly available child care search website maintained by OSSE (My Child Care DC)—as well as inside participating child care facilities—with the goal for families to use the information as they search for and select ECE providers.

Based on interviews with 36 child care providers participating in Capital Quality, we found that the new QRIS is helping providers work toward their quality improvement goals. Key findings include the following:

  • Participating providers reported favorable experiences with most components of Capital Quality. In particular, they appreciated the support of their quality facilitators and belonging to a community of practice with other local providers.
  • Most study participants reported benefits from participating in Capital Quality, including improvements in the physical learning environment, enhanced instruction and adult-child interactions, a greater sense of professionalism and personal growth, and improvements in staff motivation and content knowledge.
  • Some providers reported challenges with the amount of time required for quality improvement activities. Several felt discouraged when the level of professional development offered did not meet their needs, when their quality facilitators had inadequate training or experience, or when they believed their facilities’ ratings did not accurately represent their program’s quality.
  • Study participants offered a range of recommendations that included tailoring professional development to meet providers’ needs, expanding coaching to classroom staff, ensuring metrics are adjusted to reflect providers’ voices, and reconsidering how subsidy rates are linked to quality more equitably to better support all providers working to improve quality.

New federal investments in child care and early education provide DC with an opportunity to address the challenges with Capital Quality and build on its strengths. Future research with local early educators and parents as part of the larger District of Columbia Child Care Policy Research Partnership Study will strengthen the evidence base about Capital Quality’s role. This report lays the foundation for potential system changes to help DC achieve its aim of improving access to quality child care throughout the District.