Accreditation No Guarantee On Child Care Centers, Study Says

Two In Five Were Rated Mediocre By Researchers


Accredited child care centers tend to offer high-quality care, but parents should avoid taking accreditation alone as a sign of excellence, a study released last week said.

The report on the two-year study, conducted at 92 child care centers in the California communities of Palo Alto, Santa Cruz and San Jose, praised the accreditation process by the National Association for the Education of Young Children as an effective method of improving the quality of care.

But the study noted that nearly two in five accredited centers were rated mediocre by researchers, and it urged the association to strengthen its criteria.

"A parent going to an accredited center has a far greater chance of getting high-quality care," said Dr. Marcy Whitebook, an author of the study, which was sponsored by the National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, a nonprofit research and educational organization. "But it doesn't act as a guarantee."

The researchers used data from the 92 centers as a method of examining accreditation criteria applied to day care nationwide.

The study found that 61 percent of the centers accredited by the association offered care rated as good, but that of the 10,000 centers seeking accreditation last year, only 26 percent were rated good.

Still, Whitebook said that just applying for accreditation tended to improve a child care center because the first step in the process is a self-analysis.

Some of the centers studied conducted the assessment but did not complete the three-step accreditation process, which includes submitting a report on the assessment findings to the national association, followed by a visit to the site by a professional to verify those findings.

Of the nation's 97,000 child care centers, 5,000 are accredited and 10,000 are seeking accreditation. The study found that 10 percent of the 82,000 nonaccredited centers offered care rated as good, 84 percent were rated mediocre and 6 percent were rated poor.

On a more troubling note, the study found that nationwide, 15 percent of care for children 2 1/2 to 5 and at least double that for infants was considered harmful.

Whitebook said that meant that care providers were not addressing health and safety needs, providing support or encouraging learning.

Barbara Willer, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said the association was pleased that the report was generally supportive of the accreditation process, but she expressed concern that the rating system used in the study could be misleading.

The study rated the centers on a seven-point scale, with 5 to 7 as good, 3 to 5 as mediocre and below 3 as poor.

Willer noted that the study examined only 23 accredited centers and that among those rated mediocre, 78 percent achieved a score of 4.5 or better.

The study recommended that the association include a salary standard in its accreditation criteria as a means of combating high turnover rates, which are common to accredited and nonaccredited centers.

Over the course of the study, all of the centers examined had turnover rates among teaching staff that approached or exceeded 50 percent.

The study found that centers that managed to retain highly skilled teachers paid them at least $2 an hour more than comparably educated colleagues in their communities.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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