Bridge to Quality
Bridge to Quality was a program that worked with selected Class A childcare centers to make sustainable improvements in the quality of care they are able to offer. Each center receives on-site coaching, specialized trainings, business and financial management coaching, and resources to upgrade classroom furniture and materials to improve their classroom environment (as measured by Quality Start, Louisiana's Quality Rating and Improvement System.) Louisiana offers innovative School Readiness Tax Credits and bonuses for centers participating in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to provide financial assistance to help child care centers maintain higher levels of quality. These supports help sustain quality improvements achieved by centers participating in the Bridge to Quality program even after their participation in the Bridge program has concluded.
History and Approach
The Bridge to Quality project was developed when the Institute for Mental Hygiene convened a series of meetings with early childhood stakeholders to identify what it would take to bring centers serving low-income children up to a three-star level of quality and sustain those quality improvements. In working with centers, group members found that many child care programs truly wanted to provide high-quality early learning experiences, but most lacked the resources and know-how to realize their goals. Together, the group identified several challenges that prevent centers from achieving higher levels of quality, as well as comprehensive, sustainable solutions to those challenges.
The program was developed by Nancy Freeman and JoAnn Clarey and was piloted in 2009 and 2010 as a program managed by the Institute for Mental Hygiene. In 2011, the project moved to Agenda for Children and began working with a second cohort of Bridge to Quality grantees in New Orleans. This move has allowed the Bridge coaches and Agenda for Children's CCR&R coaches and training staff to work together more closely and share best practices in coaching and program improvement.
Lack of Funding: Most child care centers in New Orleans operate as small independent businesses and rely exclusively on tuition fees, Child Care Assistance payments from the state, and food program payments in order to make ends meet financially. With an average tuition of just $6,110 each year, centers typically have very little money left over after paying their teachers and purchasing basic supplies to make substantial quality improvements.
|Investments in Materials and Furnishings: Age-appropriate, high-quality materials and furnishings are not only critical to operating a high-quality early education program, but they are also essential to scoring well on the Environmental Ratings Scales, the assessment tools that are a critical part of a center’s ability to achieve a higher star rating. As a result, Bridge centers are provided with assistance in purchasing the materials and furnishings needed to attain at least a three-star level of quality.|
|Teacher Training: Louisiana does not require teachers in child care centers to have formal training in child care prior to working in a center, though teachers are required to obtain 12 hours of continuing education each year. As a result, child care personnel vary widely in their levels of formal education in early education, and many lack the Child Development Associate credential. The attainment of at least a CDA (or 120 clock hours of training in early childhood education) among most lead teachers is critical to a center’s ability to progress through the state’s Quality Start system.||Intensive Coaching and Training: Because teachers’ skills are key to improving program quality, Bridge uses coaches with advanced education and practical experience as both teachers and directors of child care centers to model effective teaching strategies, provide feedback on teachers’ skills and interactions with children and share knowledge about best practices in early childhood education. Directors are also regularly brought together to learn what their teachers are learning, share knowledge through networking with peers, and receive training related to effectively supervising staff and running a child care center.|
|Business Practices: Many owners of child care centers started out in the business because they love children and appreciate the importance of high quality care and early learning, but have not received formal training in business practices. As a result, many child care centers don’t have sound fiscal management practices that would help them monitor their income and expenses, manage costs and be able to plan for necessary expenditures to improve quality.||Customized Business Consulting: Every participating center receives customized business consultations to help them achieve their financial and business management goals. Centers have received assistance in learning accounting software, building budgets and identifying potential cost savings.|
Between 2009 and 2014, the Bridge to Quality Program worked with 39 centers in the Greater New Orleans and Northshore regions. No center started out with more than a two-star rating, and most had no stars or just one star at the beginning of their participation in Bridge. To date, two of those centers reached a 5-star rating (the highest possible rating for a center), eighteen centers reached a 4-star rating, and four reached a 3-star rating. Of the 28 four-star centers in New Orleans, eleven (39%) are alumni of Bridge to Quality, and three of the nine centers that attained three stars are also Bridge program graduates.
The Bridge to Quality Program was funded by the Conrad N. Hilton and W.K. Kellogg Foundations.