Skip to main content

A Comprehensive Approach to Improving Quality in Infant and Toddler Classrooms: Focusing on Supply, Quality, and Access

June 1, 2018

In this blog, Georgia's assistant commissioner of Pre-K and Instructional Supports shares seven key elements in the state's approach to assuring high quality for infants and toddlers.

A Comprehensive Approach To Improving Quality In Infant And Toddler Classrooms: Focusing On Supply, Quality, And Access

By Susan AdamsAssistant Commissioner
Pre-K and Instructional Supports
Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning

History – What Inspired Our Infant-Toddler Focus?

In 2009, a large-scale study of the quality of child care in Georgia found that the quality of state’s infant and toddler classrooms was the lowest quality in the state’s child care programs. Pre-K long has been a wise investment in Georgia, but the agency has had to work hard to extend what is known about the importance of high-quality care for infants and toddlers. Our Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) has never wavered in its belief that improving outcomes for our youngest citizens begins by focusing on infants and toddlers and, further, that this means investing in the teachers who work with them. We’ve leveraged our child care assistance, quality improvement, and workforce initiatives to push this work forward. I’m excited to share seven key elements in our approach to assure high quality for infants and toddlers in our state.

1. Changing the Frame – Shift from Health and Safety Compliance to Building Relationships

At DECAL, we knew that the importance of improving infant and toddler care was not as well understood as the need to improve language and literacy skills in young children. So we made our infant and toddler initiative a part of Georgia’s popular and well-supported Grade-Level Reading Campaign. Our approach has been to explain that improving language and literacy practices and outcomes for our youngest children is about building relationships between them and their primary teachers. Not only has this changed the understanding of what language and literacy looks like for infants and toddlers, it has shined a spotlight on the quality of their care – a subject in which all of Georgia now has interest.

2. Infant-Toddler Classroom Language and Literacy Grants

In addition to our federal dollars, we get $2 million from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) to use for improving infant-toddler language and literacy. In the first year, we’re spending the $2 million to fund early language and literacy grants to support 50 classrooms. We did cost analysis and, from this, we’ll see two great results next year. First, we can be more efficient and, for the same resources, double the classrooms we help. Second, we have been able to expand the overall investment for the project with additional funding. With an additional $200,000 from GOSA and a new investment of $500,000 from the Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy, we will be expanding to 75 new classrooms in July 2018.

Programs receive $20,000 per class, which must go toward salary and benefits for a peer coach. We encourage programs to hire one of their current infant-toddler teachers who is removed from the classroom and trained for this role. Using a current teacher addresses critical issues of sustainability. We require programs to pay $15 per hour, which comes to $30,000 per year (50 weeks) — which is a substantial increase for infant-toddler teachers in Georgia. Every program is assigned an infant-toddler specialist who has been trained in practice-based coaching and certified in the infant and toddler CLASS instruments and PITC.

We partner with Atlanta’s Rollins Center for Language and Literacy and the Fred Rogers Center on the content. Our goal is for our teachers to be present with children and increase the amount of language they hear. We are using the CLASS tool in the project and have done a pre-, mid-, and end-of-the-year observation in the classroom. CLASS observation data from the first year show promising increases across the year for most classrooms.

3. The LENA Tool – Increasing Language in Children while Motivating Teachers

As part of the Language and Literacy grant initiative, we have used the LENA tool, a device that a child wears that records the amount of language that that child receives during the day. The recordings are downloaded and each teacher gets a report that shows for each individual child the amount of conversation that took place with that infant or toddler. The results are used in the practice-based coaching sessions in discussions about increasing conversation both with individual infants and toddlers and in the classroom as a whole.

It’s been the most motivating data that we’ve used in this project. Downloading the tremendous amount of data requires a specific laptop and printer (that the grant we gave covered). I was skeptical about whether or not we could make that work in a typical child care center. But it has worked amazingly well across a variety of types of child care programs (e. g. for profit, non-profit, large corporate, and small individual centers). The weekly reports have been very motivating for infant and toddler teachers as they offer the opportunity to talk about and improve what goes on in their classrooms. Directors have said that their teachers have been empowered by the fact that this is a program just for infants and toddlers and that they’re getting real live feedback about what they do and how it makes a difference for children. LENA provides a series of coaching sessions to support coaches and teachers to increase both the quantity and quality of interactions within the daily routines of their classrooms.

4. A More Traditional Approach – Infant and Toddler Classroom Literacy Materials and Support for Using Them

The Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy – a state center with a mission to improve reading skills of children 0-8 by training teachers to teach them – funded us to do some more traditional language- and literacy-based trainings. QRIS data has shown that infant and toddler classrooms often don’t have appropriate materials, such as board books and puppets. These trainings provide these materials for classrooms as well instruction in their use. For next year, we’re looking at a training that helps to develop mathematical concepts in infants and toddlers that will also include a materials package. In addition, we are considering making it mandatory to attend the trainings before applying for a grant.

5. The DECAL Scholars Program – Infant-Toddler Degrees, Credentials, and Money

DECAL Scholars supports increased credentials though scholarships and incentive payments. This is complemented by a program called Awards that pays a tiered stipend based on the level[1] of the credential earned to people increasing their credential level. But we knew that was not enough, so we also created an additional bonus to people who are getting infant- or toddler-specific credentials or a specific family child care credential. Teachers who have a general early childhood CDA are being encouraged to get an infant-toddler one. We’re also working with our technical college system (Georgia’s “community colleges”) to better understand what qualifies as an infant-toddler credential. We want to encourage the notion that it takes particular skills to teach infants and toddlers, but we also want to make sure we have enough opportunities for people to earn the credential.

6. Moving Infant-Toddler Subsidy to a Grant-Funded Quality Model

Our agency committed to moving 20 percent of our infant-toddler subsidy spots to a grant-funded quality model, as opposed to a certificate or a scholarship model, where we’re funding a specific number of 0-3 slots to local programs. These programs are required to be in Quality Rated (our Quality Rating and Improvement System) at the second or third level (out of a total of 3 levels), and we compensate them at 35 percent above the typical subsidy rate.

And there is more innovation here: to make it simpler for the programs and our families, the programs do onsite eligibility for child care subsidy and have those slots to use in their program. This is a 180-degree turn from the traditional approach to child care assistance: parents apply and select a program; programs are not guaranteed that they will have children on subsidy to fill their slots. We’re taking some of what we’ve learned from our grant model with Georgia’s Pre-K Program by funding a number of slots to the programs that work with their local communities to fill them with eligible children. The advantage to programs is a steady income of subsidy dollars for a specified amount as long as they keep the slots filled (as opposed to relying on families to bring in a certificate/scholarship). The advantage to families is that there are slots reserved in high-quality child care for children who are subsidy-eligible. These same programs are able to apply for the classroom grant that can focus on improving the quality of those programs. So, we’re able to layer different types of funding into one program. These programs also have to offer Georgia’s Pre-K or Head Start program. That way we can look at improving the pipeline of quality for these children and families.

7. Strength in Numbers – Achieving our Goals via an Infant-Toddler Advisory Group

Taking on infant-toddler quality, supply, and access requires new ways of thinking and doing our work.  We count on the good ideas of our partners. We formed an infant-toddler advisory group that brings people together to talk about specific needs and initiatives with regard to improving infant-toddler care. One of the projects that grew out of our goal to support technical colleges through their continuing education program is helping bilingual individuals get an entry-level infant-toddler credential to be able to work in child care or open a family child care learning home. We’re doing this because of the need to have teachers who speak the home language of the parents and children in their care. The agency works with teachers to support translation of the content into multiple languages. We also have paid for employment coaches who work with the individuals in getting the credential and how to navigate that system as they apply for their CDA. We have partnerships with specific programs to hire these teachers if they want to work in child care so once they’re done they move right into employment. And our licensing department works with those who want to open a family daycare learning home.

What We’ve Learned So Far!

We have tried many things along the way and have realized that working with higher rated programs to improve infant-toddler care is much more successful because it allows us to focus on higher level skills, such as creating relationships, rather than on resolving issues regarding health and safety compliance. Our strategy requires us to think and work more holistically, always zooming in on infants and toddlers.

As in any project, we’re always collecting data. DECAL has built a research unit right into our department, which means that we have the capacity to collect and analyze data for program improvement. We also work with outside partners to support our evaluation work. For example, Child Trends leads our language and literacy classroom grants evaluation and is supporting the department in an implementation study on our early language and literacy grants. It is conducting interviews with all the peer coaches and directors to better understand their experience and what they have learned. This allows us to think about next steps – what worked and what didn’t. But we have more work to do. For example, our specialists (described in the second element), need additional training and on-going support on practice-based coaching. We’ve learned that the people who supervise our specialists needed a different type of support to support coaches, so we’re working with the Pyramid Consortium to offer some additional training.

The core of all our infant and toddler work is and will continue to be supporting teachers in improving their daily practice and their relationships with the children they serve. I can think of no better way to spend CCDBG funds than on ensuring our infants and toddlers get the quality care they need in order to be ready for pre-K – and to succeed later in life.

1st Level- 1,200 for CDA or Technical Certificate of Credit

1,300 for TCC in Infant and Toddler Care Specialist
2nd Level- $1,500 for Technical College Diploma or Associate Degree
3rd Level- $2,500 for Bachelor’s Degree or higher


Explore More