(Note: I kind of buried the lede here. Make sure you see the second-to-last paragraph.)
The Tulsa World spent the last two days investigating the ratings and inspection process DHS uses for child care and early education providers. DHS has documented 400 violations in routine inspections of 3-star providers in Tulsa County since January 2007. Although DHS does not document cases of providers losing stars as a result of violations, the article implies that DHS is not taking adequate action in response to its own findings. For instance it profiles one center that received 62 violations over the course of two years, lost its national accreditation, but retains its three star rating.
The star system is based on whether a provider has achieved national accreditation. That means a new very high quality center will be classified a “one star” because it isn’t accredited yet, while an older facility whose quality may have dropped since accreditation will remain a “three star”. Not surprisingly, the media often uses these labels as a stand-in for quality, which can be misleading for the reasons just mentioned. The stars are meant to help parents choose quality child care, but they also determine reimbursement rates provided by DHS for subsidized chld care. (A three star facility will receive more money per child than a one star.)
Chid care operators complain that inspections are uneven, with some documenting violations for the slightest inconsistencies (e.g. litter blown into a playground on a windy day), and that DHS does not record actions taken to correct problems immediately. One center’s attorney went so far as to accuse DHS of having a “culture of presuming accusations of a complaint true until the respondent disproves them.”
Those 400 violations across 37 Tulsa County three-star centers sounds pretty alarming – an average of 10.8 violations per center! The article goes on to profile two centers with a combined 234 violations, which makes it seem like that’s typical of three star centers and that there’s a crisis in DHS’s licensing processes. But removing those two yields an average of 4.7 violations across the 35 other centers, which seems pretty reasonable over a two year period that inclues six surprise DHS inspections, particularly given the agency’s alleged propensity to document very minor noncompliance issues. (This is a good example of why it’s very important to report the median number and not the mean average or even just overall figures.)
In a follow-up article published this morning, the paper profiles CAP’s own Good Shepherd, which has gone without violations or complaint since January 2007. (So, too, have Happy Hearts Academy and Bethany Community School.) CAP’s eight accredited centers have received a combined total of less than 20 violations from DHS (mean = 2.5). Of course I have no complaint that our very high-quality centers and excellent staff are featured favorably by the paper, but – contrary to the spirit of the Tulsa World’s investigation – evidence demonstrates that many (and probably most) three-star centers are providing quality care with relatively few violations themselves.