How Georgia is Raising the Bar on Quality

Here’s a typical scenario that’s no joke: A parent walks into a childcare facility and has no idea what will happen next. Maybe mom, dad, or a child’s guardian chose the center on the recommendation of a friend or family member, or maybe just after driving by, pleased with the location between home and work.

The staff and director seem friendly. The playground is well tended. But how can you really be confident your child will be safe, have his physical needs met, and be mentally stimulated while you’re not around? The first five years build the foundation upon which all future learning and success depend. High-quality early care and education services help ensure that even the most at-risk students arrive at kindergarten prepared to succeed.

A large body of research shows that children who live in poverty and have access to high-quality early education are more developed cognitively, socially, emotionally, and academically than their peers who did not receive similar education. Children who enter kindergarten prepared to succeed are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college and be productive members of the workforce.

We rely on Yelp to tell us where to eat or Angie’s List to help us find a plumber. Childcare is so much more important than any of those services. That’s why Bright From the Start: The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) maintains the Quality Rated system, a quality rating and improvement system that enables Georgia families to easily identify high-quality early care and education programs.


Efforts to improve childcare statewide began in 2000. In 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal tasked DECAL with creating and implementing a tiered quality rating and improvement system in Georgia. This voluntary program was introduced in 2013, and, today, more than 40 percent of licensed early education programs in Georgia are participating.  In fact, earlier this year, Georgia welcomed its 500th Quality Rated institution. It was Especially for Kids in Riverdale, pictured above. There are now more than 700.

Quality Rated ratings involve a comprehensive assessment of the childcare program, including:  teaching practices; how the teachers interact with children; the qualifications and credentials of the program’s staff; how the program interacts with and involves families; how equipped the program is with appropriate materials to enhance children’s learning; and the physical environment that houses the program.

“All programs are evaluated every three years,” says Pam Stevens, DECAL’s Quality Rated director. “If a provider thinks that the program has improved quality before the three-year assessment, a reassessment can be requested at the anniversary of the program’s last star rating.”

A center can be rated one, two, or three stars. According to DECAL, one star means a program meets several quality benchmarks and scores sufficiently on the independent observation. Two stars means a program meets many quality benchmarks and scores well on the independent observation. For three stars, a program meets numerous quality benchmarks and scores high on independent observation. No matter the ranking, any Quality Rated program is preferable to one that is not. All programs that opt to participate in Quality Rated are demonstrating a commitment to improve quality, DECAL says.

Finding a Quality Rated childcare facility in your area is easy.

GEEARS: The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students was established in 2010 to help business, civic, and government leaders maximize the economic return on the state’s investments in early care and learning. Guided by a growing body of research, GEEARS is working to position Georgia as a national leader in ensuring all Georgia’s children enter kindergarten prepared to succeed and on a path to read to learn by third grade.

An important part of our work is supporting programs like Quality Rated. We partner with DECAL and many other private partners to increase the numbers of Quality Rated childcare programs throughout the state. We understand the sense of relief that comes with finding great care for your child when you can’t be with him or her. Quality Rated programs not only contribute to a parents’ peace of mind, they pave the way for a quality of life. Let’s work together to ensure our children’s caregivers have the supports they need to achieve the highest standards possible. More importantly, let’s help parents know what they’re walking into so that they can make the best possible choices for their children.

— Mindy Binderman, executive director, GEEARS