Rating Toronto’s Daycares
Earlier this week, the city posted quality ratings on their Web site for 650 daycare centres across the city. The ratings are based not on user reviews, but on inspections by city staff. Every centre is graded on a scale of one to four, with three being the city’s acceptable minimum—and nearly everyone’s acceptable: 96 per cent of all centres scored at least a three. Alas, the ratings are actually quite difficult to find: programmers have buried the scores deep in the site’s architecture (here’s an alphabetical list, but you still have to click through a profile to get to the number), and they haven’t made it easy to compare scores. Which kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
The city’s Web site is often criticized for its lack of user-friendliness. I don’t feel I can comment on that issue, since it is a regular resource of mine and I have come to internalize its quirks. It must be said that the city has been continually adding information and functionality to its site, with refreshing results. I cannot describe the small thrill I experienced when, instead of having to schlep down to city hall for a visitor’s street parking permit, I could just pay on-line and print it off at home.
The city has also expanded the types of fines and tickets that are payable on-line, and Web administrators appear to have thought through every conceivable snafu. I know this because I committed an inconceivably stupid mistake late last year: I accidentally entered the wrong offense number into the system and ended up paying someone else’s ticket. I didn’t realize the mistake until six weeks later, when I received notice that my driver’s license had been suspended. Oh God, I thought, I’m going to be without a license for weeks while this gets sorted out. But court officials quickly transferred my payment to the proper infraction and I was driving again within two business days.
The childcare centre ratings, however, are different: they’re not a payment service, but an information service. The city has made a small leap into relevance by posting this information on-line. But imagine if, instead of posting those PASS and CLOSED signs for kitchen cleanliness in restaurant windows, the city only posted them on-line: it would essentially render them useless. Perhaps, like restaurants, childcare centres ought to post their scorecard in the window. I doubt it would lead to parental fright and flight, because childcare is just too scarce in this city for people to behave that way. Indeed, some daycares are already more proactive than the city, allowing parents to check up on their children at any time via Web cam. Posting the ratings would probably make the ratings, and their improvement, a regular topic of discussion between parents and child care workers—which is what open information is supposed to do.