Together with Dolly parton, nice weather, well stocked toilet paper times and the “stop video” feature in Zoom, the pandemic has brought a newfound appreciation – reverence, even – to early childhood educators.
Families, co-educators and the general public have begun to see how comprehensive childcare staff are for a well-functioning economy, says Ashley LiBetti, associate partner for policy and evaluation at Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit that aims to improve outcomes for children who are not subordinate. Many people, LiBetti notes, are aware that the existence of early childhood education programs almost exclusively allows mothers of young children to participate in the workforce.
“The pandemic catalyzed this previously unrivaled level of awareness around early care and education,” says LiBetti, adding that “the potential for ambition change in the preparation of early educators is possible right now.”
But it is more than just the pandemic that has made this a “primary moment” for the field, says Cody Kornack, director of government affairs for the National Head Start Association (NHSA). While the country struggles with its long and enduring history of racism, early childhood educators – the majority of whom are women of color – are well positioned to both support young children who have experienced trauma from systemic racism, as well as expose children to anti-racist ideas. and education at a young age.
These factors plus the economic downturn that has been destroyed the childcare industry, is similar to what Kornack calls a “confluence of crises,” which together have led to a shift in attitudes toward the field, whose workers have historically been treated more like babysitters than trained professionals.
With this in mind, lawyers and practitioners in early childhood take a new look at how to tackle the biggest issues related to the development of the workforce. In particular, they aim at how trainers are approved, how they receive training on the job and other ways they can advance their careers.
In August, dozens of early childhood researchers, educators, politicians, practitioners, and philanthropists met for almost an entire day of discussions and brainstorming on these and similar topics. “The immediate goal was to think outside the box,” says Kornack, “to be afraid of bringing bad ideas to the table, because maybe it can lead to a good idea; to be willing to share. ”
This conversation helped create a recent report, authored by Kornack and LiBetti, entitled “Wider, Deeper, Fairer: Five Strategies to Radically Expand the Talent Pool of Early Education.”
“Radical” is the key, as some of the ideas envision a landscape of preparation for early childhood that looks completely different from what is currently in place. But that was what Kornack and LiBetti – and their adviser, NHSA CEO Yasmina Vinci – intended. Based on concepts already in the pockets of the early childhood education ecosystem, as well as from programs deeply trained in other industries, the five strategies are “at once unusually simple and frustratingly complex,” the authors write in the report. “Improving early education preparation is not just about disrupting the current system, but it is a function of designing new strategies and improving existing strategies and then implementing them with large-scale fidelity.”
Below are summaries of three of the five strategies and recommendations outlined in the report. You can read the full report, including the remaining two strategies, here.
A new certificate for early teachers
Child Development Associate (CDA) is the most widely used and recognized credentials in early childhood education. More than 20 states include CDAs among their requirements for working with children. Yet “it remains disregarded as a lever for change,” the report claims.
Not all CDA programs are the same, which can be confusing for early childhood educators, and not all provide college credit. To help graduates better navigate these programs, the field must “develop a single national archive” that both names and assesses the various options, the report says.
At the same time, the field must develop another national credentials task – to be called ChildProfessional (CDP) credentials – that will expand the CDA’s skills and expertise and eventually be “held equally to four-year degrees. “Early childhood educators who have already served CDAs would theoretically complete additional training and / or courses to serve their CDPs.
In this way, the authors compare the current CDA with a “driver’s license,” which allows educators to act as assistant teachers, while the CDP acts as a driver’s license that allows them to act as lead teachers.
CDP courses can focus on topics such as classroom management, including how to monitor and work with assistant teachers; the use of technology in early education inclusion and anti-racism practices trauma-informed care and practices to support bilingual teachers. The new accreditation also opens up opportunities for teachers to specialize in tracks such as mental health, disability and teaching in two languages.
Some strategies outlined in the report are more ripe for swift action than others, Kornack acknowledges. “I would mention the national approval as one of the strategies where there are pieces that could be more easily implemented,” she says. “We are not that far away.”
It has become more and more common for states to require assistant teachers to have an associate’s degree and leading teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. However, given the low salaries and the slow growth in compensation that the typical preschool teacher experiences, the return on investment can take years to realize.
The report proposes the creation of an online, accredited, graduate higher education institution called “Premier University”. The course content and packaging of this institution would be designed with early childhood educators – potential and current – in mind.
Finally, Premier University may be able to offer associate and bachelor’s degrees with competency- or project-based courses. The report flows several more ideas to the school, including courses relevant to early educators (such as a statistics course that uses data at student levels); a diverse, culturally responsive faculty and flexible schedules that allow educators to work and take lessons at the same time.
Pieces of this idea are already in place in certain parts of the country, Kornack says. “In fact, if we got five to 15 people in a room, we could manifest Premier University.” Some of these people include Gail Joseph, who helped design and roll out EarlyEdU, a series of competency-based courses for early childhood educators who hosts through public universities and the team that develops new academic programs at Southern New Hampshire University, which is known for its online offerings.
“The devil is in the details,” says Kornack, “but it is my impression that there is the will of several parties to get there.”
A push towards apprenticeships
Practice-based training – which in K-12 is usually offered through student teaching – is among the most valuable components in teacher preparation, the report claims. In early childhood education, apprenticeships should be the “cornerstone” of practice-based training, says Kornack, “and there should be more of them.”
Internships allow teachers to “earn while learning”, gain new skills and competencies as they pursue an identification task, and often collect incremental pay rises along the way.
The report somewhat called “Apprenticeships +”, which pairs apprenticeships with additional practice-based training opportunities. The latter could follow the model that nurses use in their rotation programs: to try different specialties and learn from experienced professionals in each.
“Gaining experience under mental health consultants, family engagement teams, special education interveners and computer specialists would build teachers’ competencies in complementary aspects of a teaching position in the classroom,” the report says.
There is already a lot of momentum around apprenticeships in the field, LiBetti says, adding that it is the most feasible strategy to implement because there are clear political and practical steps to help them “spread” in early childhood education.