Date of Award

Fall 1-5-2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Deron Boyles

Second Advisor

Chara Bohan

Third Advisor

David Johnson

Fourth Advisor

Jennifer Esposito


Since the 1980s, the concept of quality in early childhood education has evolved into what has been termed “the quality agenda,” which has had increasing influence on policy and practice in schools for young children. The quality agenda reflects an essentialist understanding of education that is heavily influenced by neoliberal ideology. The enactment of the quality agenda reinforces and reifies values that are mainstays of neoliberal ideology, including meritocracy, accountability, privatization, and market-based solutions for public problems. Over time, neoliberalism has emerged as “common sense” for determining the appropriate means and ends of education. This view of schooling is, however, irreconcilable with another philosophy of education: progressivism. Throughout the United States, federally mandated statewide Quality Rated Improvement Systems have proliferated in early childhood education. A key effort of the Quality Rated Improvement Systems is the administration of the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale. This tool is used to assess a view of quality that reflects and relies on neoliberal essentialism. The expectations and norms of essentialism frame the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale; these expectations and norms are juxtaposed with the philosophical underpinnings of progressivism. The experiences of the University Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, under the leadership of John Dewey, and the Reggio Emilia educational project that was launched in 1963 by Loris Malaguzzi in Italy offer what Peter Moss terms “alternative narratives” about what constitutes quality in early childhood education. By explicating the view of quality that characterizes progressivism, the assumptions at the heart of the quality agenda, in general, and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, in particular, are interrogated and challenged.


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