The pressure is building on the nation’s premier association for early-childhood education to overhaul its accreditation system.
More than a year ago, the National Association for the Education of Young Children set out to “reinvent” its program of accreditation—a standard that is widely seen as symbolizing quality in child care and early education.
But with the number of programs seeking accreditation growing rapidly, it became obvious to the leaders of the Washington-based group that they were not equipped to handle the volume of requests and adequately serve the programs. (“Early-Childhood-Accreditation Demand Overwhelms NAEYC,” Nov. 10, 1999.)
Just since last year, the number of programs going through the accreditation process has increased by 38 percent, and the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs—the accreditation division of the NAEYC—now fields an average of about 500 applications each month.
As it is, the country has about 7,700 accredited programs. Another 8,000 are in what is known as the “self-study” process, which means they are developing their programs to meet the requirements for NAEYC accreditation.
In addition, a variety of local and statewide initiatives designed to encourage programs to seek accreditation continue to spring up, putting even more pressure on the association to overhaul the process.
Although the commission that is taking on that challenge for the NAEYC won’t complete its work until sometime next year, the association is taking a number of steps to improve its services in the meantime.
“We think what we are offering now is a stronger, more efficient system,” said Mark Ginsberg, the executive director of the 100,000-member organization, which opens its annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., next week.
In a recent interview that appeared in Child Care Information Exchange, a trade magazine for program directors, Mr. Ginsberg compared the situation to that of an emergency room team treating a patient.
“Your first job is to stabilize the patient, before you get to systemic solutions,” he told the magazine. “I see that we’re now at the point where I think we’ve stabilized the immediate crisis and have begun to look for long-term solutions.”
A year ago, the organization brought in Denise M. Scott to lead its National Academy of Early Childhood Programs.
A former director of early-childhood programs at the Miami Valley Child Development Center, a Head Start provider in Dayton, Ohio, Ms. Scott has experience as both a teacher and an administrator.
Since her arrival, the association has increased the number of staff members who work specifically on accreditation. And the 26-member staff is expected to grow to about 30 in the next month, with a goal of eventually having 35.
Other changes have been made to improve the accreditation program.
For example, the fees that applicants pay for self-study materials will increase in December by about $25 to help bolster the accreditation program’s resources. The fees are based on the number of children at a center, with the range beginning at $150 for programs with 60 or fewer children and going up to $350 for programs with 241 to 360 children. Centers serving more than 360 children will pay an additional $100.
Ms. Scott said she has heard some negative reactions about the price increase.
But it was needed, she said, because the academy was losing money each time it accredited a program. In addition to the staff hours devoted to each application, volunteers who evaluate the programs—called validators—are reimbursed for their expenses.
The academy also has tried to improve how it communicates with local programs.
As it is, child-care or early-childhood centers waiting for news about their applications receive postcards to update them on the process. But center directors have often complained that they didn’t know when someone would be visiting their programs or whether their applications were being reviewed.
Whether to hire full-time validators or continue using volunteers is one of the most pressing questions before the NAEYC’s National Commission on Accreditation Reinvention.
The organization, however, is keeping a tight lid on some of the proposals under consideration.
“There are things that may or may not make it into the final version, and rumors would not be helpful,” Mr. Ginsberg said.
Still, even though the organization is being unusually mum about proposals under consideration, members of the staff are gathering the views of people who would like to see changes.
On Oct. 31, Stacie Goffin, the director of the reinvention project, will hold an all-day, preconference session in Anaheim, Calif., to take comments and questions about possible changes to the system.
The session will cap the several months that Ms. Goffin has spent appearing at a variety of conferences to gather advice.
Members of the commission are also consulting with other accrediting bodies to see what they can learn and how it might apply to the NAEYC.
And those who work in the field—especially those connected to programs seeking accreditation—have some specific ideas for how to improve the system.
Paula J. Bloom, the director of the Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National-Louis University in Wheeling, Ill., said she would like to see accreditation become a more continuous process of improvement for centers and preschools.
Pat Phipps, the executive director of the NAEYC’s California affiliate, has more immediate concerns. Her organization is overseeing a $12.6 million, state-financed effort to help 370 centers become accredited. California has close to 600 accredited programs.
“We’ve been assured that [the NAEYC] would be ready” to handle the applications, Ms. Phipps said.
In addition to efforts like California’s, more than 20 states have what are known as “tiered” reimbursement policies, meaning that child-care providers that are accredited receive higher subsidies for the low-income children they serve than those that don’t meet those standards. That, too, could add to the number of centers seeking accreditation this year.
Some states also require programs to be accredited to receive funding to offer a certain program, such as prekindergarten.
While accreditation is still a voluntary program, Ms. Goffin said, policymakers are increasingly demanding it.
The commission is welcoming comments from anyone, including parents and K-12 educators, about NAEYC accreditation.
Suggestions should be e-mailed to the association at firstname.lastname@example.org.