Research shows quality child care and preschool settings help children develop skills like motivation, self-control, focus and self-esteem that are crucial to their success once they enter school.
Through the Quality First program, First Things First partners with child care providers and preschools in Arizona to improve the quality of early learning for children birth to age 5. These learning environments nurture the emotional, social, language and cognitive development of young children.
Improving the quality of early learning settings – including offering scholarships so that more young children can access quality child care and preschool – is the single largest investment at First Things First (almost 50 percent of spending in fiscal year 2017). The voluntary program currently serves about 1,000 child care and preschool programs – roughly one-third of the licensed or certified early learning sites in Arizona.
Programs participating in Quality First receive coaching, assessments, professional development, and incentives. After about two years in the program, each of the participating early learning sites is rated on a scale of 1-5 stars. These ratings are published at QualityFirstAZ.com, along with other tools that help families find quality child care that meets their needs.
The first phase of a study to ensure that Quality First is improving childhood outcomes was recently conducted. The study found that providers who participate in Quality First programs tend to improve in their quality levels between assessments.
Since 2013, the percentage of programs that meet or exceed quality standards (3-5 stars) has increased to 71 percent from 25 percent. Beyond that, nearly all child care facility directors and more than three out of four early childhood teachers said they made changes to their program as a result of joining Quality First. Most directors also indicated they would recommend that other early learning programs join Quality First.
This study demonstrated that the program is meeting its goals, but also recommended several areas for improvement. With the support of an $800,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Things First will begin a pilot program to test program modifications that were recommended by First Things First’s Quality First Advisory Subcommittee and that mirror some of the opportunities for improvement noted in the studies. The goal of the pilot is to determine if the modified program continues to move providers along the quality continuum while, hopefully, creating costing models that allow Quality First to serve more providers.
Quality First, and other programs like it, are working to improve and encourage quality early learning so that students are prepared when entering kindergarten. It is part of a statewide effort to improve learning at all levels of the education continuum, and will impact goals outlined in the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which has identified high quality early learning as one of eight education priorities.
To read the full Executive Summary of the study, visit FirstThingsFirst.org/quality. To see stories of how Quality First has impacted school readiness for Arizona children, visit First Things First’s Family Stories page. Additionally, parents can listen to this podcast about what to look for in quality child care.