Is the NQS “a Market for Lemons”?
I recently read a fantastic article about parents’ ability to correctly assess quality in US children’s services. This article ‘Can consumers detect lemons? An empirical analysis of information asymmetry in the market for child care’ by Naci Mocan makes some very interesting points:
- parents assess the quality of room and centre characteristics, which may or may not be those that child development professionals think are important
- parent characteristics, like education and marital status, affect how accurately they predict quality
- parents from minority groups rate quality higher when educators come from the same minority group
- quality services can be costly to run
- if parents cannot evaluate the quality of a centre, they won’t be willing to pay a premium for high quality, and high-quality services may not be viable. p 773-774
If parents can’t accurately predict quality, the market for centre-based children’s services has, as Mocan puts it, ‘aspects of a market for lemons.”
Now in Australia under the NQF, we have always been told that one of the reasons for assessing and rating children’s services is to provide accurate information to parents about the quality of each service. We know it is hard for parents to accurately assess quality education and care. We have professionals who do it for them and then we publish those ratings to provide transparent information about each service.
Or do we?
As at 22 September 2014, only 46% of services in NSW have been assessed (source ACECQA website). This leaves a staggering 2639 (as at 22nd September) to be assessed and rated.
From previous figures NSW DEC is assessing 100 services per month. If this continues it would take a further 2 years and 2 months to get through the remainder. This doesn’t include the reassessment of services that were rated working towards or meeting, and are supposed to be assessed again after 1-2 years under NQF guidelines.
Let’s just stop and think about this for a minute. We have children who have been through the early childhood system from 6 weeks and are now at school, and their service has not been assessed. At Centre Support we know of long day care services that have not been assessed for well over 5 years – under the NCAC or NQF. Services like these could be operating for 7 years with no quality checks whatsoever.
Why was the NQF created? Something about giving children the best start in life??? How can this hold true when the figures or so horrific? What are services doing between a potential 7 year visit? This mess and poor planning has left us in a situation where the figures can’t be used to support reliable research data. Perhaps more importantly, parents can’t make informed choices. Moreover, does the backlog pressure assessors to rush assessments and ratings? What type of assessment ranking would you get with a rushed assessment?
What is really going on with assessment and rating. It’s clearly failing from a NSW DEC point of view.