Why does PIC...? What is the Oversight at PIC?
As we just completed our every-five-year NAEYC reaccreditation validation visit, it seems like an appropriate time to share a bit of information about the organizations that provide oversight of PIC and how that oversight affects our daily work at PIC.
All child care programs in the state need to be licensed by the Department of Human Services (DHS.) While this licensing is important (an organization cannot operate without it,) the licensing standards are minimal and the annual licensing visit primarily consists of our monitor going through the files of our staff and children with a fine tooth comb. (It is why having up-to-date physical forms is so important.)
Pennsylvania’s Keystone Stars Quality Improvement Initiative began about ten years ago and has created a system that designates programs a stars rating, ranging from 1-4 with 4 being the highest level. A Star 4 rating allows a program to receive grants based upon the size and educational credentials of the staff. PIC has been involved with Keystone Stars for the last ten years and has consistently received the highest rating each year. In doing so, we receive a grant of approximately $49,000 each year that goes directly into our operating budget. Many of our teachers receive direct grants from the Stars program, ranging from $800 to $3,000 (as their educational levels increase, the grant amount increases.) The Keystone Stars system involves an on-site validation visit every-two-years to ensure that we are meeting the standards of the Infant/Toddlers Environmental Rating Scale (ITERS) and the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS).
The National Organization for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the largest organization of people in the field of early childhood education in the world. Just as the American Medical Association is the primary organization for physicians and the American Bar Association is the same for attorneys, NAEYC is the early childhood organization we turn to for everything from current research in the field to legislative happenings to professional development. The annual NAEYC conference alone has approximately 25,000 attendees.
NAEYC Accreditation began in 1985 with the goal of providing a system that would raise the quality of early childhood programs and that would create standards that would be accepted nationally, as opposed to the licensing systems that differ so vastly from state to state. Today, over 6,500 programs across the country are NAEYC Accredited. PIC was one of the first child care programs to become NAEYC accredited in 1991 and has held the accreditation status ever since. Since it’s inception, NAEYC has upgraded the accreditation standards several times, as research in the field has changed significantly during the last thirty years. All standards are reviewed by many organizations and are endorsed by organizations as varied as The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Reading Association.
Keeping our NAEYC accreditation status and Keystone Stars level 4 has staffing (both hiring and retention), marketing and financial implications for PIC. Many teachers come to us because we are a NAEYC accredited and/or Keystone Stars 4 designated program, which almost always assures a higher salary scale and better benefits structure than non-accredited and lower Stars level programs. Families too, often come to us because we are NAEYC accredited. (The Stars system is not as well known among families in Pennsylvania.)
Just as the Keystone STARS quality improvement initiative provides us with direct grants for our teachers and for our general operating budget, our NAEYC accreditation enables us a higher reimbursement rate for all of our families receiving state subsidy. This allows us to continue the economic diversity among families that has been a hallmark of PIC since it’s inception.
The NAEYC and the Keystone Stars standards are extensive. While there continues to be some discrepancies between the two sets of standards, more and more work is being done to align them. As standards change and are revised, we know this will mean changes at PIC. Sometimes these changes will be accepted by our staff and our families with great happiness, and other times, they will be met with just the opposite reaction (and most often, a single change will include people on both sides of the spectrum.) We understand that this will happen with any system. Changes that PIC families may have noted within the past year or so and that are directly related to NAEYC and/or Keystone Stars (health and safety standards in particular) include creating “shoeless classrooms” in our infant/young toddler rooms, removing all blankets or other objects from baby cribs, removing microwave ovens from classrooms to heat children’s food, removing “potty chairs” from one of the older toddler classrooms, removing any reptiles as classroom pets, and asking families to not bring in any candy, heavily salted or sugared foods with children’s lunches.
The most significant (and surely the most painful change felt by many) has been the loss of teachers who have opted not to move forward in increasing their educational credentials. While this is a personal decision that we obviously need to respect, it has meant losing some wonderful teachers in the PIC community. Many other teachers have opted to continue to increase their educational credentials, and there is significant financial assistance from the state that allows teachers to receive grants that cover nearly 95% of the tuition costs (and other colleges are extending their own grants.) We have known of the movement toward increased education credentials for many years, and PIC teachers were given the timeline at least five years ago. While any staffing losses are significant in affecting the culture of a program, the long term benefits of moving teachers who teach young children toward achieving the same level of respect (and perhaps compensation one day) of those who work with older children, is a huge asset.
One thing we are quickly learning is that with the increased attention that early childhood education is getting on the local, state and national fronts, we can also expect increased emphasis on accountability. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it will continue to be challenging. Our primary goal at PIC is to keep intact the most important philosophical elements that have been so much a part of our program for 36 years AND to keep abreast on all of the new learnings that are relevant to our daily work with children and families. This is and will continue to be, a delicate balance. We hope the balance will ensure that PIC continues our reputation for high quality that has defined our program for many years AND continues the unique and dynamic culture that everyone loves.