Why the Parent Aware Ratings?

This brief video explains why the Parent Aware Ratings are so critical to early education reform in Minnesota.

Parent Aware FAQ

The Problem

Up to 90% of brain development happens by age 5 making the early years a critical time to have children in stimulating early learning settings.
Minnesota isn't doing well on the early education front. Everywhere in the state, only about half of the children who arrive at kindergarten are adequately prepared. And too many never catch up. To get Minnesota kids ready for school, we have to 1) help parents find high quality early education for their children and 2) help child care providers improve their early education quality. That's what the Parent Aware Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) is all about.
Almost half of Minnesota kids statewide are unprepared for school, and too many never catch up. When they don't catch up and drop out of school, that's obviously a tragedy for those kids and their parents. But it's also a tragedy for Minnesota's economy, because Minnesota needs educated workers to compete on a global basis. Finally, it's a tragedy for taxpayers, who end up paying higher remedial education, social service, health care, law enforcement, and prison costs. Because of those kinds of expenses, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis find that every dollar invested helping low-income children access high quality early learning yields a $16 return to society.
The 16-to-1 return-on-investment (ROI) only occurs when the investment is made in HIGH QUALITY early education settings. Spending on low quality not only doesn't produce that high ROI, there is evidence that low quality care can actually set children back.
A stimulating early learning environment looks like play, not a traditional formal classroom. In fact, it is play. We want young kids to play, because that's how they learn. But they need the kind of stimulating play that helps young brains develop to their full potential.
No parent is ever forced to use ratings, but most parents tell us this information helps them. In a recent survey, 96% of Minnesotans agreed, "parents should have access to the best available information to help them find the best places for preparing children for kindergarten." Parents are able to judge on their own if a child care setting is clean, affordable, and in a good location. But they don't always feel equipped to judge at-a-glance whether an early learning program is using the best practices for preparing children for kindergarten. Ratings can give parents good information to support their decisions, if parents want the help.

The Solution

The easy-to-use, one- to four-star Parent Aware Ratings are a Consumer Reports-like rating service that helps parents find the child care and early learning providers in their area who are using the best practices for preparing children for school. According to a recent survey, 96% of Minnesotans agree that this kind of information is useful.
To do a search using this free service, parents can call Child Care Resource & Referral 1-888-291-9811 or go to www.ParentAware.org. They identify what they want in a child care provider, such as location and quality rating. Then they get a list of providers that fit the criteria they identified. Parents can also just ask providers in person, "What's your Parent Aware Rating?"
The one- to four-star ratings measure the best practices that, according to research, are most predictive of school readiness. The practices particularly focus on physical health and wellbeing, teaching and relationships, assessment of child progress, and teacher training and education.
Parent Aware has been tested for several years in pilot areas - St. Paul, Minneapolis, Wayzata, Blue Earth County, and Nicollet County. The findings cited throughout this document are from a rigorous evaluation of those pilot programs. The evaluation was conducted by independent early education experts.
For those providers who volunteer to get rated, Parent Aware provides a number of rewards. The rewards include 1) access to quality improvement coaches and grants; 2) the business of parents using the Parent Aware Ratings in their shopping; 3) the business of parents using government funded scholarships, since scholarships can only be used at highly rated providers; and 4) marketing support to tell consumers about their rating.
Parent Aware is 100% voluntary. It uses a reward approach, not a regulatory approach. No early education provider is ever mandated to get rated, but those who do volunteer are rewarded with quality improvement coaches and grants, the business of parents using the ratings in their shopping, the business of scholarship recipients, and marketing support. But again, no child care provider is ever forced to volunteer.
With child care providers who volunteer to be rated, parents have the assurance that the providers are using all or some of the best practices for preparing children for school. With non-rated providers, parents don't have that assurance. That doesn't necessarily mean they aren't using those best practices, but it does mean that parents don't have that assurance.
A recent survey found that most (98%) Greater Minnesota citizens want the same or better early education quality as the Twin Cities has. And 95% of Greater Minnesota citizens want Greater Minnesota providers to have the same access to rewards and assistance that Twin Cities providers have. When it comes to early education quality, Greater Minnesota citizens clearly have high expectations for their children and child care providers, they're not willing to see their kids and providers left behind.
In the pilot areas, the ratings and rewards associated with the ratings successfully convinced over 400 early education providers to voluntarily improve their quality. In St. Paul, the number of 3- and 4-star rated programs increased more than 55% over two years. Six in ten (63%) of fully rated providers improved their ratings the second time they sought them. Finally, 92% of providers who volunteered to get rated told evaluators that Parent Aware helped them improve their quality. Clearly, quality improved after Parent Aware was implemented in the pilot areas.
Parent Aware provides a very clear quality improvement path for providers, as well as coaches and grants to guide them down the path. Providers use the assistance to do things like improve the learning environment, and purchase curriculum and assessment tools. Almost all (92%) of child care providers who volunteered to be rated in the pilot areas said that Parent Aware helped them improve their quality.
In the pilot areas, children in rated programs showed significant gains in kindergarten readiness measures, such as expressive and receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, print knowledge, and social competence. Helping children get ready for school is the bottom line goal for Parent Aware, and that goal was achieved in the pilot areas.
A recent survey found that 97% percent of citizens living in Greater Minnesota agreed that, "Parents should have access to the best available information to help them find the best places for preparing children for kindergarten."
In the pilot areas all types of programs, including smaller licensed home-based providers, were able to achieve high ratings. On average, licensed family child care providers gained a full star upon re-rating, while center-based programs saw a one-half star improvement.
Later in 2012, School Readiness Scholarships will become available to low-income children in some Minnesota communities. Scholarships may only be used at highly rated providers. Communities and eligible families will be made aware as scholarships become available.
To ensure tax dollars are only spent where they can earn the maximum return-on-investment. Incidentally, this is a very popular approach. In a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans (73%) agreed that, "we should only allow tax dollars to be spent on early childhood education providers who have proven they are effective in preparing children for kindergarten."

The Details

Licensing and Parent Aware measure different things. State licensing assures parents that child care providers are adhering to minimum standards primarily related to health and safety. On the other hand, the Parent Aware Ratings are focused on school readiness best practices. Only licensed child care providers are eligible to seek a Parent Aware Rating.
Licensed child care centers, licensed family child care homes, Head Start, and public and private preschool programs are all eligible to participate in Parent Aware.
Because health and safety are important components of a good early learning environment, and only licensed providers can provide parents the assurance that they are meeting the state's minimum health and safety standards.
The Parent Aware Ratings and child care accreditation programs, such as NAEYC or NAFCC, share a focus on improving the quality of child care and providing parents with information about program quality. Some key differences. Parent Aware rates program quality on a one- to four-star basis; accreditation is only awarded when programs reach the highest standard. Participation in Parent Aware is free to providers and offers them quality improvement resources, accreditation programs come with a cost and providers are responsible for their own quality improvement investments.
Parent Aware is an initiative led by the Minnesota Department of Human Services in coordination with the Minnesota Office of Early Learning. The Child Care Resource & Referral community is helping parents, child care providers, and early educators use and access the ratings. Greater Twin Cities United Way is investing in quality improvement supports for providers in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area and an evaluation of the effectiveness of quality improvement efforts statewide. A business-led nonprofit organization called Parent Aware for School Readiness (PASR) is promoting the ratings to parents, and evaluating the ratings to ensure the standards stay as strong as possible as evidence evolves and improves.
It's continuing in the pilot areas, and expanded to the remainder of Hennepin and Ramsey counties and also Becker, Clearwater, Itasca, and Mahnomen counties in 2012. In 2015, Parent Aware became available to parents and child care programs statewide.
The Accelerated Pathway to Rating allows accredited child care programs, Head Start, and public school-based pre-kindergarten programs to use a simplified process to receive a high Parent Aware rating. This option is available because many of the quality indicators have already been demonstrated by these programs. It would be duplicative to require them to also go through the full Parent Aware Rating process, so they are able to pursue an accelerated path to getting rated. The accelerated rating process is available across the state of Minnesota, to learn more visit, ParentAware.org/providers/how-it-works/.
Yes, the partners involved in delivering the ratings have used evaluations, child care provider feedback, and parent feedback to update the process.
A wide ranging coalition including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Business Partnership, MinnCAN (Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now), a bipartisan group of state legislators, Education Minnesota, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, many of the state's philanthropic foundations, and CEOs and former CEOs from large Minnesota employers such as General Mills, Best Buy, Taylor Corporation, Ecolab, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Cargill, and many others.