ARIZONA POISED TO IMPROVE SCHOOL
READINESS WITH QUALITY FIRST!
PHOENIX – (June 15, 2011) By focusing on lessons learned from other states working to enhance school readiness, Arizona is poised to make great strides in the quality of early education for kids birth to 5 with a system that focuses on increased accountability and resources to support quality, a national expert told a group of community stakeholders today.
Dr. Gerrit Westervelt is Executive Director of the BUILD Initiative, a national movement created by a consortium of private foundations to help states enhance and expand high quality early education opportunities for young kids.
“Arizona is doing it the right way, with its focus on both identifying what quality looks like and making a commitment to help providers come up to that level of quality,” Westervelt told a group of about 200 industry and community leaders convened Tuesday at Phoenix’ Church of the Beatitudes. “Many other states focused first on creating standards without the necessary supports or incentives that improve quality; because of this, their efforts may have moved slower than they would have liked.”
On Tuesday, the First Things First (FTF) board approved a comprehensive package detailing a system of standards, technical assistance and incentives aimed at helping Arizona’s child care providers – public, non-profit and for profit programs – continuously improve the quality of education services for kids birth to 5 years old. Westervelt was on hand to put Arizona’s efforts – formally known as Quality First – in context with quality improvement efforts nationally.
“Arizona learned well from the experience of other states,” Westervelt said. “This system reflects an understanding that you can have the best standards in the world, but that true quality improvement hinges on combining those standards with resources to improve quality that are spent in an accountable, thoughtful way.”
The stakes have never been higher. Kids entering kindergarten this year face a new state law that requires that they be mandatorily held back if they are not close enough to reading by the end of third grade. By improving the quality of early education for kids across a variety of settings – including an emphasis on early literacy and language development – FTF is giving more kids the opportunity to start school ready to succeed.
For the past two years, FTF has been working to engage close to a third of Arizona’s child care providers to be assessed, create plans to improve the quality of early education services they provide and begin implementing those plans. By summer 2012, those centers will be rated using the 5-star system approved Monday by the FTF Board. That system was developed in collaboration with early education experts and providers nationally and statewide. The 2012 ratings will be posted on a public website that parents can use to make educational choices for their young children.
Bruce Liggett, Executive Director of the Arizona Child Care Association, praised Arizona for creating such an innovative system that engaged child care providers by focusing first on quality improvement.
“First Thing First's approach is unique,” Liggett said. “Quality First is not merely a rating; it provides incentives, resources and supports that are designed to allow Quality First centers to continuously improve the quality of care for children."
Listening to Westervelt’s comments on Tuesday, FTF Board Chair Steve Lynn said he is proud of the tenacity FTF has shown in developing Quality First from the ground up.
“Quality First is more than a signature program at First Things First,” Lynn said. “Quality First represents a true partnership. FTF, child care providers, family advocates and parents are working together to create and support an early education system that helps our youngest kids arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed.”
Lynn said Tuesday’s approval of the structure and financing for Quality First is a significant step toward an improved early education system, but also reinforced the need for Arizona as a state to be disciplined in its approach to providing high quality early education to children starting at birth.
“This can’t be a one shot approach,” Lynn said. “Both as FTF and as a part of the early education system, we must remain steadfast and ensure that our decisions and programs reflect a commitment to improving the quality of and access to early learning opportunities for all young kids.”
About First Things First
First Things First was created in 2006, when Arizona voters – through the Proposition 203 ballot initiative – decided to set aside 80 cents from each pack of cigarettes sold in order to fund the expansion of education and health programs for children 5 years old and younger. Under the terms of the proposition, decisions about how to best use the funds are made on a per‐region basis by 31 councils made up of local leaders. The statewide board – which has final approval of the councils’ recommendations – is responsible for ensuring that the funds are used on programs proven to work at improving outcomes for children. To learn more, visit azftf.gov.