Tuesday, March 21, 2017

ECEAP: Dosage Matters

Our goal as an agency is to get 90% of Washington’s children to be “ready for kindergarten,” and to have race and family income not be predictors of readiness.

About 20% of Washington’s children are in families at or below 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL,) or about $24,000 for a family of four.  These young people face many challenges in life and are a key part of any rational economic strategy for the state, as well as being part of the paramount duty enshrined in Washington’s constitution. The large gap seen in our kindergarten entry assessment between kids below 110% and their more advantaged peers persists through their entire experience in the K-12 system, and the rest of their lives. 

We’re looking at a number of ways to help these kids get ready for kindergarten. The most effective in national data and in Washington is high-quality preschool. Without that investment, we estimate that about 28% of this group will arrive in kindergarten meeting our benchmark for kindergarten readiness. 28% isn’t 90%. 

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Say – ice cream. When it comes to high-quality preschool experiences – not so much. Dosage matters. There are three major components of “dosage,” the amount of preschool a kid gets.  Length of day, number of years, and length of year. 

ECEAP today is mostly a half-day program – about 3 hours. Most national research suggests that a full-day program is much more successful in getting kids ready for kindergarten.[1] There are other reasons full-day makes a lot of sense, which I’ll cover later. 

We also have strong data supporting high quality preschool for both three and four year olds.
  • After one year of ECEAP, about 55% are ready when we measure in June. When we measure in the fall the number falls to about 35%. We attribute this falloff to both summer learning loss, a problem well explored in the literature[2]and some testing differences between ECEAP and kindergarten.
  • A small fraction of kids start when they are three, getting two years of ECEAP. 69% of those kids are ready for kindergarten. 69% is a lot closer to 90% than 55% is.
Only a very small fraction of kids in ECEAP have summer programming, and it’s too new for us to have enough data to evaluate the effect. We’re super-interested in figuring out how to prevent the large drop of scores over the summer, and this year’s budget includes funds for a reasonable experiment to measure the effect of providing the service all summer. This would inform future investment decisions.

One of my particular concerns about ECEAP is that we’re not getting to the kids at the highest risk. Over 60% of the families below 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL) are headed by single parents, but only 42% of ECEAP families are. There are lots of potential reasons for this, but the most likely is that a half-day program is crazy making for single parents. What are you going to do in the middle of the day – tell your boss you need time off to switch your kid from one place to the other?
Ross Hunter at an ECEAP site.

We don’t have another intervention that works this well at getting kids ready for kindergarten, and if we’re serious about ensuring that kids from low income families have the same chance to succeed in school as their friends that are born closer to opportunity then we have to design the preschool experience so that it actually works for Washington families.

Governor Inslee’s ECEAP budget proposal in front of the Legislature right now:
  • Continues to expand ECEAP, but with almost all full and extended-day slots. Washington law says that all kids below 110% FPL will be entitled to a slot in the fall of 2020, and Governor Inslee’s budget calls for a significant expansion in the next two years so that we’re not scrambling to try to do it all at once in the next budget cycle.
  • Funds a substantive experiment in summer programming so we can determine which particular model works best to reach our kindergarten readiness goals.
  • Continues eligibility for both three and four year old children, because without this we are unlikely to make our 90% goal and will be living with an opportunity gap for the next generation of kids, something we think is morally repugnant.
In one of my favorite turns of phrase this year, it’s pretty clear from national data that kids really need to spend more time each day in the somatosensory bath[3] of the high-quality preschool and intervention services that ECEAP provides. Research is emerging that indicates more time in high quality preschool each day equals better results for the kids who need it most.[4]
So in short, dosage matters and more is better for ECEAP. Some questions we’re still exploring in order to best steward the public funds in our trust while getting the best outcomes for kids:
  • What is the best combination of length of day, number of years, and type of summer programming to get the most children ready for kindergarten?
  • Which children benefit the most from the three elements above?
  • ECEAP is more than just classroom time. The variety of family supports and health coordination the program provides are a critical part of its success. Not all families need every type of support available. What types and levels of services each family needs, and how to determine that efficiently, is a question we took up in our Family Support Pilot and will continue to examine.
  • What other factors are affecting kindergarten readiness: availability of dual-language instruction, family involvement in various parts of the child welfare system, seamless transitions from effective early intervention programs like Early Head Start, ESIT, and home visiting to high quality preschool programs like ECEAP?

We don’t have a perfect formula for dosage yet, but we have the tools to devise a good one. Most importantly, we need to support and expand ECEAP in a thoughtful and effective manner. I’ll be writing more about how DEL plans to implement ECEAP expansion in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that post.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning 

[1] (Kenneth B. Robin, 2006)
[2] Wikipedia “Summer learning loss” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_learning_loss
[3] Somatosensory “of or relating to sensations that involve parts of the body not associated with the primary sense organs.” James Heckman writes about the importance of the somatosensory bath of early childhood here: http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR37.5/ndf_james_heckman_social_mobility.php

[4] RAND 2016, “Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati”, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1461.html

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

DEL Announces New Substitute Pool for Child Care

The Substitute Pool is designed to support family child care and child care center providers in accessing substitutes to work towards professional development goals to reach Early Achievers Level 3 or higher.

The Substitute Pool will:
Promote progress within Early Achievers by encouraging family child care and child care center providers to participate in professional development opportunities. This includes:
  • Substitute coverage to allow providers to participate in professional development opportunities.
  • Time to work towards achieving a Level 3 or higher. Allowable activities include:
    • Early Achievers Level 2 training series.
    • Completing self-assessments, action plans, or filing supporting documents.
    • Early Achievers Remedial Activities.
    • Early Achievers Technical Assistance and Coaching.
    • Environmental Rating Scale (ERS) preparation.
    • Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) preparation.
    • Education/Professional Development degrees or certificate programs.
Facilities that qualify to use the Substitute Pool:
  • Have served at least one child on subsidy within the last 12 months. 
  • Are enrolled in Early Achievers and working towards a Level 3 rating.
  • In good licensing status: this means having a non-expired license that is not suspended, revoked, or on probationary status.
Individuals that qualify to be a substitute in the Substitute Pool:
  • Are 18 years old or older.
  • Are registered in MERIT (visit www.MERIT.del.wa.gov to get started).
  • Meet the current minimum education standard for a licensed facility lead teacher.
  • Have evidence of the following in their MERIT record:
    • Initial Training Requirement (Child Care Basics)
    • DEL Portable Background Check clearance 
    • Child Abuse and Neglect training
    • Pediatric First Aid and CPR certification
    • Blood Borne Pathogens training
    • Tuberculosis test results
    • Safe Sleep training
    • Food Handlers permit
    • Mandated Reporter Training 
Once qualifications are verified in MERIT or there is a plan in place to complete them, substitutes must attend an in-person orientation with The Imagine Institute.

The Imagine Institute, a non-profit organization, will be administering the Substitute Pool. In addition to Substitute Pool administration, The Imagine Institute also offers trainings for both Family Child Care and Family, Friend, and Neighbor providers.

For more information about the Substitute Pool, or If you are interested in hiring a substitute or becoming a substitute, contact The Imagine Institute:

Phone: 206.492.5244
Email: subpool@imaginewa.org

Friday, March 10, 2017

DEL Seeks Applicants for Early Achievers Review Committee

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) is looking for interested individuals who reflect the diversity of our state and have different perspectives of our early learning system to help us improve Early Achievers. We have membership openings on the Early Achievers Review Subcommittee (EARS) of Washington’s Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) and want you to participate. This is an opportunity to provide feedback and input on issues that impact all Early Achievers participants and the families they serve! 

DEL values the unique insights and perspectives of families and providers and is currently accepting applications from individuals representing the following groups:

  • Family home child care providers from Central and Northeast Washington. 
  • Child care center representatives from across the state, particularly those accepting state funding through Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) subsidies or Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). 
  • Parents of children participating in early learning programs, including those receiving WCCC subsidies or ECEAP services. 
  • Head Start, Early Head Start, Migrant/Seasonal Head Start or Tribal Head Start Program representatives.

EARS advises DEL on strategies to improve the quality of early learning programs participating in Early Achievers. The subcommittee has made a commitment to racial equity and considers the cultural and linguistic needs of families and providers in its analysis and recommendations. Some of the issues the subcommittee will address in the coming year include:

  • Developing and improving supports for participating providers.
  • Identifying and resolving participation barriers for low-income and culturally diverse providers.
  • Supporting subsidy providers and ensuring continued access to care for families receiving state child care subsidies.

The subcommittee also reviews and provides feedback on all major Early Achievers policy changes. DEL staff also partner with the subcommittee to develop the Early Start Act annual progress report to the Washington State Legislature. 

EARS meets six times per year; generally from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. These meetings focus on the continuous quality improvement of Early Achievers. They typically include presentations by content experts, group discussion and opportunities to provide feedback and input on implementation of new policies and strategies. Lunch is provided to members attending daylong meetings and non-governmental members may be reimbursed for their travel expenses, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management travel regulations

The open membership seats are volunteer positions. Members serve a minimum of a one year (two years is preferred) with terms expiring on June 30th. Members are welcome to remain a part of the committee beyond their term for as long as they are actively engaged. Members are expected to attend the majority of meetings and be prepared to actively participate. Subcommittee members may also have the opportunity to participate in workgroups focused on specific topics or strategies to improve Early Achievers. Participants who volunteer for topic specific work groups should expect to meet outside of the regular subcommittee meeting dates. 

Interested individuals can apply for the open seats by emailing slc@del.wa.gov by March 31, 2017. Please include what seat you are interested in filling as well as answering the following: 

  • Why would you like to serve as a representative on EARS? 
  • How did you hear about EARS and/or who referred you? 
  • How do you see yourself contributing to EARS commitment to racial equity and cultural sensitivity? 
  • What impact do you hope to see EARS have on early learning in Washington, and how do you want to contribute to that effort? 

Please contact slc@del.wa.gov with any questions. 

Thank you for your interest in contributing to our state’s progress toward building an early learning system that meets the needs of all Washington children and families!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Policy Revision: Books & Early Achievers

The Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) announces revisions to the data collection protocol for the Environment Rating Scale (ERS), a tool used in the Early Achievers ratings process. The ERS originated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Beginning March 16, 2017, DEL will exclude the item related to Books and Pictures in each ERS tool used in the Early Achievers onsite evaluation.
“We believe that it is the role of parents, in partnership with their early learning providers, to decide which books in the early learning environment best meets the needs of their children,” said DEL Director, Ross Hunter.
Hunter recently updated his personal blog about the topic, you can find it here: Censorship for Preschoolers. Access to a wide variety of reading materials that reflect the experiences and cultures of children and their families outweighs any benefits that may stem from the use of these indicators in the rating process.

Access to books is a crucial role in early learning and development. To help families and early learning professionals provide a rich assortment of books, DEL now partners with libraries across the state. 

How does this new policy work?
Early Achievers data collectors will mark the item as “not applicable” and they will not collect any data on this item related to Early Achievers.

What does this mean for Early Achievers participants?
Early Achievers participants will no longer receive a score on Books and Pictures. This change in practice will not affect overall ERS scores for participants. 

“Our goal is to provide expert tips on selecting books for an early learning environment as well as additional resources and events for children, families and early learning providers. Together, we work to ensure that every child in Washington has the opportunity to develop a love of language, reading and learning,” said Hunter.
For more information about Early Achievers, visit del.wa.gov/early-achievers.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DEL Proposes New Rules: Safe Sleep, Environment and More!

DEL Rules Update | February 2017

DEL Files Proposed Rules

In January 2017, DEL circulated working drafts of safe sleep and environmental hazard rules to licensed child care providers who would be affected by the rules.  We received valuable feedback and made revisions to the draft rules.  Thank you to all who commented on the drafts!
Proposed rules have been filed with the Code Reviser and DEL is accepting comment on the proposals through March 23, 2017.  The proposed rule subjects are:
  1. Safe Sleep: Updating rule to current health and safety standards that child care centers and family home child care providers must follow to protect sleeping infants and toddlers who are in their care.  Read the proposal
  2. Lead and Other Environmental Hazards: To comply with Governor Inslee's directive to reduce children's exposure to lead and other environmental hazards, DEL proposes environmental safety requirements for child care centers and family home child care providers, including testing drinking water to detect hazardous levels of lead and copper, evaluating facilities for paint and soil hazards, and ensuring outdoor gardens are safe for children who play in them.  Read the proposal and small business economic impact statement.
  3. Child Care Subsidy Wait List:  Forecasts for Washington State's Working Connections and Seasonal Child Care subsidy programs indicate that consumer needs will likely exceed available funding in the next two years.  Wait lists will be created if that happens and the proposed rules clarify how DEL will administer the lists, including prioritization, when benefits start for a consumer who is taken off the list, withdrawal from and reinstatement to the list, and provider payment terms.  Read the proposal.
A 10:00 AM hearing is scheduled on March 23, 2017 to receive public comment on the proposals.  Hearing location:
Cascade Conference Room 130
1110 Jefferson Street [DEL State Office], Olympia, Washington

March 23 is the last day that comments will be accepted.  Attend the hearing or submit comments in writing by one of the following methods:

  1. Online: DEL Rules Comment webpage. Click “Add Comment” to give your input, or “View Comments” to read what others have said.
  2. Email the DEL Rules Coordinator
  3. Mail comments to Rules Coordinator, DEL, P O Box 40970, Olympia, WA  98504-0970.
Only input received at the hearing or written comments received on or before March 23 as noted above will become part of the official record.  DEL will respond to all comments submitted and provide a combined response to all who comment on a particular proposal.  The combined responses will also be posted on the DEL website and provided to anyone upon request. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Early Achievers Celebrates Parent Recognition Month

Early Achievers Pagers
New Early Achievers pages!
National Parent Recognition Month honors parents for the important roles they play in their homes and communities across the nation. Parent leaders may be a parent, grandparent, foster parent or any other care provider in a parenting role who share their perspective to effect change.

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) celebrates the contributions parents and families make to our society on a daily basis and recognizes that all parents have the potential to be great leaders. We are excited to announce a new online resource for parents and families to learn more about quality early learning in Washington through Early Achievers. Visit www.del.wa.gov/earlyachieversfamilies to learn more about:
  • The importance of quality child care and early learning
  • Early Achievers and how it is improving the quality of care in Washington
  • Finding quality early learning and care in your community
  • Additional resources and supports for families
The new pages also feature an expanded translated materials page for providers and all pages can be translated into multiple languages via the Google translate button at the top of each page.

For those who are interested in becoming leaders at the state level, the Early Achievers Review Subcommittee is currently accepting applications for members. This is a great opportunity to become involved in Early Achievers and its work to improve the quality of care for all children in Washington.

For more information, please visit: www.del.wa.gov/earlyachievers.

Early Achievers Logo

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Update on Licensing, Health, and Safety at DEL


To the Early Learning Community,

The Department of Early Learning, which I have the honor to direct, regulates thousands of small businesses that provide childcare to 180,000 children in Washington every year. You hear a lot about “regulations crushing small businesses” and “regulations being critical to ensure safety.” Finding a balance between adequate safety and supporting childcare providers is important to getting the best outcomes for kids. 
  • We do fingerprint-based background checks on anyone who has unsupervised access to children, about 50,000 of these a year. This ensures that sex predators and people with a history of abusing or neglecting their own children don’t get to work in the industry. 
  • We make sure childcare facilities have fire safety checks, have safe playgrounds, have enough square footage to provide enough room for kids to move around, don’t have dangerous cords hanging down from window blinds, don’t have cleaning products or weapons accessible to children, etc. 
  • We make sure there are enough adults in the classroom to ensure safety. There are national standards for this kind of thing and we work hard to follow them. 
  • We ensure that facilities follow practices like safe sleep, food prep safety, good diapering practice to avoid fecal coliform infections, etc. 
  • We ensure minimum provider education levels because outcomes are much better for kids when they have a provider with a stronger educational background. 
  • We follow federally-required annual inspection schedules and incident follow-up deadlines.

Our goal is to prevent injuries and fatalities. Despite our best efforts some will occur, but many fewer than if we didn’t have rules providers have to follow.

In addition, we have a voluntary system (“Early Achievers”) that measures the quality of childcare. For taxpayer-subsidized kids we require at least a level 3 on our 5 point scale because it’s better for kids and we think taxpayers have a right to insist that they only pay for high-quality care. We pay more for higher quality care and instruction because it costs more. It’s worth it because we get better outcomes. Read more about Early Achievers here.

Like any regulator, we get complaints from the businesses that we regulate. They complain that our regulations cost too much to comply with, that our enforcement is biased against them because they are X, Y, or Z, or that we are inconsistent in our enforcement. Providers that have more than one location served by different licensors often have evidence that this is so, with different problems treated differently by different licensors. 

I try to approach problems like this analytically, so I asked for a systematic review of discipline practices across the state in my first few months. It turns out the businesses are right – we have different practices in different places, and often between different licensors inside the same office.  This isn’t OK, but it is a challenge to fix.  We have to have the regulation, but we also have to enforce it the right way. To improve the consistency and appropriateness of our licensing effort we’re doing the following: 
  1. Clarify the rules. Our rules should be readable by providers who have a high school education, our minimum educational requirement. We are in the middle of a complete re-write of what was a complex, multi-part document that had been written in pieces over decades. We’re aiming to be consistent across different types of facility – family child care homes, centers, and our state-run preschool program called ECEAP.
  2. Set clear expectations about consequences for violations. Safe sleep violations put vulnerable infants at risk of crib death. Keeping your paperwork in order so you don’t waste the licensor’s time checking everyone’s CPR training status is important, but perhaps not as much as safe sleep. We’re “weighting” the rules so our licensors and the small businesses we regulate can see how seriously violations of different rules will be treated.
  3. Training our staff. We’re planning to engage in a continuous review process on the new rules. Licensors will gather in groups to work through responses to common (and uncommon) situations that often get different responses and ensure that we’re all treating things the same way. We’ll document these cases to use as training for new licensors, and make them available to providers to see actual examples.

This isn’t an overnight project. The rules revision alone has already taken most of a year and we expect another 6-10 months of feedback, analysis and work to finalize the changes. It’s hard enough to change rules that we want to get it right. This is called the “Alignment” project, and you can read about it here.

We’re in the middle of the “weighting” process now, and are using a somewhat complicated but evidence-based approach to this to ensure that lots of stakeholders have input into the weights. Read about the weighting process here. 

Part of ensuring consistency of application of these rules is having an appeals process that makes sense. Our current process is just to have the supervisor of the original licensor review the decision. This doesn’t result in a lot of corrected actions and also doesn’t help build consistent practice. We’re moving to a new system where appeals go to a rotating group of experienced licensors who get to look at appeals monthly, without identifying information. This eliminates any implicit bias we may have about a provider and gets a single interpretation across the whole agency of the issue that’s come up. Our new process should roll out this spring. 

In addition to the formal steps we’re taking, we are investing in upgrading our software infrastructure so that licensors can track their observations on regular monitoring visits. Our new system is based on Salesforce.com and works in the cloud.  We expect it to be easier to manage as well as being a useful tool to see how peers react to concerns a particular licensor may have. 

Building a regulatory system that is too extreme can result in significant compliance costs for providers. There needs to be some rules (not having enough adults in the building is cheaper, but very, very dangerous) but having too many onerous rules can push providers out of the licensed world. Sometimes it’s hard for parents to tell the difference, but it matters. We shut down an unlicensed facility in 2016 when we discovered there were way too many infants for one provider to manage and a person living in the household who was a level one sex predator with a gun collection. You might not be able to see this from the outside, but you don’t want your kid there. 

Finding the right balance is tricky, and we depend on public input to make the determination. It’s like taxes. It always feels to a taxpayer that their taxes are too high, but the societal costs of having an inadequate education system that the taxes pay for are much more severe. The safety and outcome implications of getting the balance of childcare regulation wrong are pretty severe as well, and it’s worth being thoughtful about how we approach it. 

We’ll keep updating and engaging with you over the next year as the projects I mentioned above move forward.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning