Tag Archives: early childhood workforce

How to Professionalize the Early Childhood Workforce? Three Approaches for States

Right now there is little incentive to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Degree holders have the lowest starting salary of any major, and there are limited opportunities for career advancement. But research shows the achievement gap begins before students enter kindergarten, and our littlest learners need the best teachers.

Many states are exploring ways to professionalize the early childhood workforce, and some are reforming degree and credential requirements. This year, Washington, D.C. passed legislation requiring all early childhood educators to have an associate’s degree. Other states now require a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. With this trend in mind, states should plan ahead to make early childhood education degree programs worthwhile and accessible for educators already in the field.

What can they be doing now? Here are three things states should consider to lay a solid foundation for professionalizing the early childhood workforce:

1) Guided Pathways

As it is now, many two-year institutions offer a range of options to study early childhood education: students can take a CDA preparation course or pursue a certificate, diploma, career associate’s degree, or transfer associate’s degree (to continue at a four-year institution). The differences in these programs can be unclear to students and may not align to build on each other. With confusing programs and poor advising, students end up with additional credits that don’t contribute to a degree program, wasting precious time and money.

Guided pathways require higher education leaders and faculty to redesign their offerings, creating clear outcomes for programs and credentials that build on one another. As seen below in the career map from a community college in Wisconsin, pathways clarify which degree programs are relevant for which careers and other outcomes and give students increased agency in selecting a program that fits their needs and goals.

Source: Career Pathway for Early Childhood Education at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin [PDF]

2) Articulation Agreements

Articulation agreements are agreements between two- and four-year institutions that allow students to transfer seamlessly without losing credits. Most two-year institutions have some kind of articulation agreement, but not specifically for early childhood education. Expanding the number of early childhood bachelor degree programs at four-year institutions and ensuring every two-year institution has an articulation agreement for early childhood lays the foundation for potentially requiring early childhood educators to have bachelor degrees in the future.

Some states, such as Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have already created statewide agreements between all two- and four-year institutions for early childhood degrees, providing a model of what this could look like elsewhere.

3) Accreditation Support

Early childhood accreditation organizations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), work to raise the quality of early childhood programs. But accreditation can be expensive, and many schools prioritize other programs for accreditation above early childhood. State support, such as North Carolina’s innovative grant program, expands the number of accredited programs. As early childhood educators pursue a degree, the seal of accreditation provides peace of mind to students, as well as a degree program designed to meet the needs of today’s infants and toddlers.

If states aren’t already thinking about reforming the early childhood workforce, they are missing an opportunity to professionalize a field that plays a vital role in eliminating the achievement gap. For reform to be successful, institutional structures must be in place to support continuing education. If not planned correctly, the burden of mandated degree policies will rest on teachers and not successfully transform the early childhood education field.

How ESSA Title III Could Encourage Improvements for Dual Language Learners

English learners from ages 0-8, also called dual language learners (DLLs), are a growing population of students who face daunting achievement and graduation gaps. New guidance out recently from the Department of Education highlights some opportunities for pre-k through third grade system improvements for DLLs under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), specifically around how school districts may spend their funds for Title III. Title III provides approximately $760 million to states to improve instruction for English learners and immigrant students. These funds could be used to create better systems for DLLs if school districts partner with early childhood education (ECE) providers to take up some of the options in the new law and run with them.

  • Include pre-k teachers in professional development: First, ESSA specifically encourages states and districts to include preschool teachers in professional development on improving teaching skills for DLLs. This includes school-based ECE teachers, as well as Head Start teachers and community-based providers. Simply getting elementary school teachers and community-based ECE teachers in the same room is unusual, doing so while addressing the diverse needs of DLL students could be could be a big step forward.
  • Support effective language instruction across ECE: The guidance encourages school districts to make preschool language instruction part of their overall language instruction strategy, and this doesn’t only apply to on-site classrooms: school districts may sub-grant some of their Title III funds to support DLL instruction in ECE settings. While schools are rarely thrilled to give away funds, early action to support DLLs will yield dividends once those students transition into elementary schools.
  • Engage families early: ESSA adds a new Title III spending requirement: parent and family engagement. Families are young children’s most important resource for language learning and healthy development, as was reaffirmed in a joint policy statement on DLL family engagement earlier this year. Under ESSA, Title III family engagement is not limited to K-12 schools; school districts can use Title III funds to support DLL family engagement in ECE settings, and the guidance gives examples of how Title III can be used to support broader family engagement efforts.  
  • Share data effectively with ECE providers to inform improvement: School districts are required to share data and coordinate activities on DLL instruction with local Head Start agencies and other ECE providers, on topics such as standards, curricula, instruction, and assessments. The requirements on what data to share and what activities to coordinate aren’t very specific, but the aim is to create “a feedback loop that informs the improvement of programs and supports,” for DLLs. If this is done well, ECE providers could see how their DLL students are doing in elementary school, and open lines of communication could help schools and ECE providers both improve.

This is all a lot to accomplish with a limited pool of Title III funds — 71% of Title III school districts found funding for DLLs to be a moderate or major challenge according to a national evaluation published in 2012. But, with smart coordination, combining funding from other grant programs and funding streams, and improved relationships between schools and ECE providers, ESSA Title III requirements could be the nudge some school systems need to take action towards building better pre-k through third grade systems for DLLs and all young students.

Serving Children in Poverty While Living in Poverty

image via woodleywonderworks on flickr

Have you ever tried to guide half a dozen two-year-olds through discussion of a book? Or managed a classroom of four-year-olds each doing an independent activity? During law school, I worked at the Georgetown Law Early Care Center under the mistaken impression that working with small children would provide a nice break from long hours reading legal cases. I quickly learned that I misjudged the energy and effort required to care for young children. I can only imagine how much harder my job would have been if I was working full-time earning $10 an hour, unable to afford health insurance, and managing a second job in an effort to support a family.

But these conditions are, unfortunately, all too common for our country’s early childhood educators. Last week the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley released a groundbreaking report focused on the challenging conditions facing the U.S. early childhood workforce. The results show that even though generations of psychologists, neuroscientists, and economists have outlined the crucial role of early childhood education to child development, academic success, and the U.S. economy, the early childhood workforce continues to live in poverty and under extreme stress. Nearly half of early childhood education workers receive some type of government assistance and their median wage is $9.77, less than the hourly fee paid to a high school babysitter in many communities.

The fact that young children are under the care of adults subject to chronic stress is a critical problem that has tremendous consequences for young children and U.S. society at-large. The foundation for lifelong literacy, attention, and self-regulation is built during the years from birth to age five. Young children’s brains are influenced dramatically by the quality of their relationships with those caring for them. In fact, research has determined that early educators’ skills are the most important factor determining the quality of children’s early learning experiences.

Many believe that the best way to set students up for life long success is to ensure all children have access to two years of high-quality preschool. While this change would dramatically increase long-term outcomes for American children, it is impossible to achieve this without transforming the early childcare workforce and the conditions under which they toil. States must increase workplace supports and compensation. The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment report aims to be a yearly report, so here’s hoping the next index will show dramatic improvements in the right direction.