As national calls for equity and the end of systemic racism influence efforts to retool professional development, career growth and compensation in early childhood education, a new paper from National Head Start Association, The HeadStarter Network and Bellwether Education Partners offers specific strategies providers could consider when building an effective early childhood educator workforce.
The pandemic also offers an opportunity to reform the educator pipeline and retention efforts, the paper said. As with the K-12 system, the tumultuous events of the past year have ignited a desire to move away from traditional practices that haven’t yielded improvements and replace those with meaningful reforms.
The five strategies suggested in the paper, including redefining credentials and using job-embedded coaching, are meant to help reduce fragmentation in early childhood educator preparation and to incentivize the creation of stable and high-quality early education programs.
The report’s recommendations for professional advancement and educator appreciation and compensation are not prescriptive. Rather, the groups behind the report intend for providers and other stakeholders to use the recommendations as a jumping off point and adopt different strategies as they fit into their communities.
Cynthia Jackson, a member of the Early Childhood Network Catalyst and the executive director of Educare Learning Network, a national early learning network, said during the report’s online launch Jan. 6 that the recommendations are a starting point to address the under-resourced areas of early childhood care and education, as well as concerns that there aren’t enough early childhood education professionals. The report said 40% of the early education workforce consists of women of color who are underpaid.
“We have been great at calling out the inequities of high-quality early care and education for children and families,” Jackson said. “And we are great at calling out the inequities in the development of our early childhood professionals. The challenge is ours to address.”
Jackson and other speakers at the online launch call said some of the strategies are aspirational and even perhaps unreachable, but urged providers and stakeholders to explore opportunities for change anyway.
“I'd like to add that we need to reach agreement that trying something is much, much better than continuing to lament about an issue that has plagued the field for decades,” Jackson said.
Here are the five strategies suggested in the report:
Redefine credentials. The report suggests the creation of a national repository for Child Development Associate training options. A CDA is an entry-level credential for beginning early educators. It is also recommended that a second credential be established that adds to the CDA and shows educators have advanced levels of understanding across different subject areas. That advanced credential would be viewed equal to a four-year post secondary degree.
Rethink degree attainment. This recommendation would create an online Premier University for early educators, which would consolidate components of early education preparation that currently exist separate from one another. The imagined university would have faculty with experience in culturally responsive instruction.
Optimize project-based training. A major aim of this goal would be to compensate early childhood educators during their pre-service preparation work, similar to apprenticeships in various career fields. The U.S. Department of Labor recently approved early childhood education as an apprenticeable occupation, which can open the door for financial aid to cover educational costs and flexibility in practice-based training.
Expand job-embedded coaching. While individualized early educator coaching is increasing across the country, job coaching can mean different approaches in different contexts and can be costly and labor intensive, the report said. Practitioners should consider creating coaching systems that allow participants to earn course credits for their work, which would promote degree attainment.
Support career advancement. Like the K-12 system, career advancement in early education tends to be vertical and hierarchically-driven, meaning that if preschool teachers want to advance and earn a higher paycheck, they would need to leave the classroom and transfer to administrative work. The report suggests providing competitive career and leadership opportunities, such as fellowships and job rotations, for effective early educators, which would give them increased recognition, professional status and compensation while they remain in the classroom.