DECAL Celebrates a Decade of Stars: Quality Rated Turns 10

By: GEEARS for Saporta Report

As the state agency responsible for meeting the child care and early education needs of Georgia’s children and their families, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is constantly looking for ways to improve the experiences of our state’s youngest students. 

In the late 2000s, a series of independent studies found that Georgia needed bold action to strengthen and increase supports related to its early care and learning programs, classrooms, and workforce. The study found that, while meeting licensing standards, many classrooms scored in the low-quality range. 

As Mindy Binderman, Executive Director of GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, put it in the video linked below, “It was a clarion call to all of us that we had to do something to improve the quality of child care in Georgia.” 

So, Governor Nathan Deal championed the implementation of a Quality Rating and Improvement System. His mandate quickly gained momentum. Through public and private partnerships, DECAL and its partners, including GEEARS and Georgia Family Connection Partnership, raised $18 million in funds and, in 2012, launched Georgia’s Quality Rating and Improvement System, known as the Quality Rated Child Care program. 

The Quality Rated program is voluntary. Child care providers sign up to participate, and their commitment requires meaningful action. They submit to evaluation and assessment by independent, credentialed early education experts to earn a rating of 1, 2, or 3 stars. They also commit to working continuously to improve the quality of early care and education they provide.

Anyone who has consulted the number of stars in a product or restaurant review will be familiar with such a system. But Quality Rated’s stars hold more weight than most. Even a 1-star rating proves that a provider has gone above and beyond in their improvement efforts, achieving levels of quality that exceed the State’s minimum operating requirements.  

When parents access Quality Rated’s user-friendly Child Care Search Tool to find a child care program, seeing a star rating is an assurance of best practices. Those stars indicate that a provider engages families, employs qualified and well-trained teachers, and provides a safe, healthy, and caring environment with a low teacher-student ratio. Quality Rated providers implement individualized instruction, offer a curriculum that prepares children for kindergarten, and focus on active learning and social-emotional development.

“My day-to-day approach to teaching definitely changed,” early childhood educator Helen Sarembock told us. “We wanted to improve. We wanted to enhance. And there were a lot of ideas coming from Quality Rated.”

A star rating also helps providers who are passionate about their mission to better serve their students and families. When they improve program quality, both they and their students win. They can also use the marketing power of a Quality Rated star rating to attract more families to their programs. 

To say Quality Rated has caught on would be an understatement. Ten years ago, just a few pioneering child care providers took the first leap and signed on to the Quality Rated program. The 129 providers that earned a 1-, 2-, or 3-star rating by July 2013 and maintained a rating over the subsequent decade have now become known as the Class of 2012. 

Today, that number has exploded, with more than 3,600 providers participating and nearly 3,000 achieving a rating. Additionally, 93% of all children with Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) scholarships receive care and education from a Quality Rated provider.

This is cause for celebration! In recent months, DECAL and GEEARS have collaborated on several celebrations of Quality Rated and the Class of 2012. 

  • We created a video honoring the history and discussing the future of Quality Rated. It’s full of inspiring stories and, of course, adorable toddlers. You can view it here.  
  • We staged celebratory events in Dalton, Metro Atlanta, and Valdosta, toasting members of the Class of 2012 with treats, trophies, and speeches from luminaries such as former Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Grammy-winning country singer and Georgia Foundation for Early Care + Learning Board Member Coy Bowles.

If all this 10th Anniversary hoopla feels like a culmination, think again. DECAL’s plans for Quality Rated are expansive. The agency is already identifying equitable pathways to ensure that all Georgia families have access to high-quality early learning and that all providers are well-equipped to meet the demand.

“Going forward, we will be looking at how we can make Quality Rated better for everybody, from the classroom teachers to the directors to the family child care providers to the families who use the Search Tool,” says Quality Rated Director Denise Jenson. “We will also really focus on ensuring that the system is meeting the needs of children and families over the next 10 years and beyond.”

GEEARS is proud to celebrate Quality Rated’s success and ongoing commitment. Each of the nearly 3,000 star-rated providers represents young learners who are receiving high-quality early care and learning; parents who can access reliable care for their children so they can report to work worry-free; and educators who are supported in their pursuit of excellence. 

In other words, we can thank Quality Rated for a dramatically improved early education landscape for all of Georgia—and generations of young students.