Defining and describing the people who comprise the early childhood care and education (ECCE) workforce is an incomplete task without considering the context that helps to shape some of their characteristics. The professional development, compensation, career opportunities, recognition, and working conditions of the ECCE workforce provide some of these important contextual elements. They influence who enters and stays in the workforce, as well as the quality and effectiveness of their services for children and families. These contextual elements are shaped by market forces, as well as by local, state, and federal policies.
Joan Lombardi, deputy assistant secretary and interdepartmental liaison for early childhood development at the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provided her views on the policy context of the ECCE workforce. Although she noted the substantial improvements that states and federal programs have made in addressing early learning standards and quality rating and improvement systems, she expressed her view that efforts targeting the workforce deserve to be a much greater priority for policy makers. She emphasized the point that innovative strategies are needed to reach those who provide care and education in homes, both in family child care settings as well as in the homes of the large numbers of family, friends, and neighbors who provide child care, regardless of their status as members of the ECCE profession.
Lombardi described her concern that the ECCE field needs—but may
not currently have—a workforce that is adequately prepared to take on the challenges of using today’s evidence-based practices. A particular challenge is the expectations we are putting on teachers in all early childhood programs without the adequate preparation, support, and compensation they need. She expressed her concern that “in our efforts to align everything, we are placing expectations on a completely under-resourced child care system. That is a problem,” particularly given the challenging working conditions of much of the workforce.
She highlighted several federal initiatives to address the needs of a broad range of the ECCE workforce, including Head Start’s National Center for Teaching and Learning, programs to support home-based providers, and the expansion of mentoring programs for teachers. She also noted her optimism in seeing the energy, creativity, and intentionality of young teachers, including those from Teach for America and so many other new teachers, who are dedicating their work to young children. Lombardi’s recent experiences engaging directly with teachers focused her attention on the challenges ahead, the distance still to go to achieve desired outcomes for the workforce, and the promise of new strategies.
The final session of the workshop was dedicated to exploring the context of the ECCE workforce, including its challenges and promising efforts to address them. Considering how to build ECCE as a “profession” was an important theme explored in this session. A perspective from health care offered a useful example of how a profession (e.g., nursing) can have a shared identity among individuals who work in a diverse range of settings, improve standards and requirements for entry, and foster means for continuing improvement. Presenters also explored perspectives on the career pathways, training and education, and working conditions that affect this workforce. Discussion highlighted possible steps for the future to support the workforce and better serve the children and families whose lives they touch.
Other fields have struggled with many of the same issues that face the ECCE workforce and the policy makers and others who hope to strengthen it. Catherine Dower, associate director of research at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California, San Francisco, drew some comparisons with health care and suggested a template for evaluating emerging professions.
Dower reported that although we spend more money on health care than any other nation, and more than 11 million people work in health care in the United States, we rank below virtually all other industrialized countries on adverse health-related measures, such as deaths from
medical errors, preventable deaths, and contracting infections in hospitals. Health care workers are part of both the problem and the solution, Dower suggested.
All professions constantly evolve, in response to changes in technology, consumer demands, and demographic changes, and new professions emerge as well. Dower and colleagues (2001) developed a template to evaluate new and emerging health care professions, such as acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, and homeopathic medicine. This tool has since been used in many contexts because it provides a standard way to identify benchmarks to gauge progress relative to other fields, and to calibrate expectations related to cost, access, choice, quality, and culturally appropriate care or service. Dower explained that the tool is designed for use by consumers as well as professionals and researchers.
The model is not quantitative, she added. It does not impose time lines or set numeric goals. Rather, it is a subjective way of identifying key issues and questions. The model organizes the questions into five categories: (1) defining and describing the profession; (2) safety and efficacy issues; (3) government and private-sector recognition; (4) education and training; and (5) proactive practice model and viability of profession.
1. Defining and describing the profession. What services are offered? Is there consensus among the members of the workgroup on how to define the profession? The professions that have been most successful are those that have been able to develop a shared definition, Dower noted. It is also important to describe the areas of overlap with other professions, to consider the value of what the particular profession adds, what distinguishes it from others, and how it developed. Data are important as well—the size of the workforce, its demographics, and its growth trends. Most important is to ask whether the workforce is large enough and has the right skills to meet the needs of the population it serves.
2. Safety and efficacy issues. Dower stressed that these are separate issues, though they are treated together. Safety issues concern the potential of risk or harm to the client or consumer, and are the reasons why professions are licensed by states. Many professions, she noted, seek regulation both as protection and as a signal of their value, and are thus compelled to make arguments to the legislature about the ways in which their practitioners could harm the public without adequate regulation. Consumers are most concerned with efficacy, and professions need an agenda for research to expand their understanding of what works and what is most important in their practice, as well as a means of disseminating the findings.
3. Government and private-sector recognition. Professions need to consider the ways third parties view their work and their practitioners, and have strategies for seeking recognition for their work. In addition to regulation, structures for payment—including insurance, financing, and third-party reimbursement—play important roles. Professions also need to understand who is seeking their services, why, and how clients or consumers locate practitioners. Private-sector (non-government) certification is important in this context because it provides a way to signal to potential consumers that a practitioner meets professional standards. The development of such standards should be based on a job analysis, and the certification should be based on some type of assessment.
4. Education and training. Most professions do have some college-based or vocational school-based preparation as well as practice-based training. Some professions have an apprenticeship track, as well. Some lay and direct-entry professional midwives, for example, have an apprenticeship track that is recognized, and also have national certification. One important element for professions to consider is how well their education system prepares candidates for accreditation, and what continuing education is available. The education and training must also prepare those who will do research on the profession and serve as faculty for future professionals.
5. Proactive practice model and viability of profession. What the profession is currently doing and can do in the future to develop new and better ways to provide their services is a critical question for the ECCE field. Dower placed special emphasis on this element, noting that health care and service industries are changing quickly because of technology, financing issues, and demographic changes both within the workforce and within the populations they serve. Existing and emerging fields have taken different pathways in this climate of rapid change, but several factors are widely shared. The most important ingredient in keeping them viable, she added, is leadership, and leaders within the 200-plus recognized health professions have looked to education, certification, and licensure tools to help them gain public recognition and stay current.
Public understanding is important, even though it may seem like an extraneous factor, Dower added. Most medical fields are viewed as necessities, but a few—such as branches of alternative medicine—are viewed as options. From an outside perspective, ECCE often seems to be in that
category as well. Box 5-1 presents six questions to guide thinking about how a profession can be proactive.
Dower closed with two key points. First, a profession’s ability to understand and adapt to change is an indication of its viability. Perhaps most important in this regard is for the members and leaders of the profession to have both sufficient information to understand what needs to be changed and sufficient freedom and resources to try new approaches. Data and research that analyzes the data’s meaning, a leadership infrastructure, and individuals who will persist in pushing for change are all key ingredients. Second, a profession’s role in leading positive change is an indication of its strength in defining and improving care. She stressed her sense that policy makers and the public do not understand the ECCE field well. A public relations effort that builds understanding of the vital responsibility these workers assume, the powerful benefits they can bring to children and families, and the challenges and obstacles that affect their work could be a valuable contribution. When this template is applied to the ECCE workforce, gaps that need further attention can be identified.
Marcy Whitebook, senior researcher and director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, presented an overview of the interrelated contextual challenges facing today’s ECCE workforce. Differences among caregivers and teachers—in their purpose and goals, the care they provide, and their education and training—are vast and often reinforced by regulation and funding streams, she noted. Some members of the workforce consider themselves to be professionals, but others do not. Those in the K–12 system will have earned certification before entering the classroom. However, many who work in ECCE settings rarely face such certification requirements to enter the field. These individuals may have little more than cardiopulmonary resuscitation training while working, and often pursue job-related training or education only after they have already been working with young children for a significant period of time. Entry requirements for ECCE jobs vary widely ranging from “16 or older and breathing” to a master’s degree and certification. As Whitebook stated, “We haven’t even articulated what the expectations and competencies are for people in all sorts of different roles,” a problem which complicates setting entry requirements to the field and assuring consumers of a standard of competence.
Members of K–3 settings, she added, have a clear expectation that teachers’ knowledge and skills will develop over time. Support programs for new teachers, mentoring, professional development, and paid planning time are standard practices in that context. The pathway to leader-
Questions to Guide a Proactive Practice Model
Are there practice guidelines? Dower noted that although she is critical of medicine on many points, the field has been serious about developing standards and guidelines so that practitioners are working toward the same goals, and also continually working to identify and rectify weaknesses. She particularly noted the contribution of the Institute for Health Care Improvement, which developed the 100,000 Lives Campaign in response to the Institute of Medicine report (IOM, 1999) on medical errors. This campaign began with easy changes every hospital can make, such as improved cleaning of the site of an IV (intravenous) needle, which can immediately reduce infection rates. The Institute for Health Care Improvement has since increased both the target in lives to be saved and the number of key practices. The campaign is important in part because these are all practices that staff already know how to do, yet improving adherence to them is “changing the face of medicine.”
Are there interprofessional teams? The problem of “fiefdoms” that may duplicate one another’s efforts or work at cross-purposes may be at its worst in medicine, Dower suggested, but some promising developments are addressing the problem. For example, medical doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have increased their collaboration, which benefits all three. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are trained to do much of the routine care in primary and specialty practices, and when they are able to do so, the medical doctor can focus on complex situations where expert judgment is needed. Such models are effective both clinically and financially, she added.
Are clients satisfied and how is that measured? Understanding what clients, patients, and consumers think about the care being provided is critical, Dower explained, and this information can be obtained in a variety of ways. Practitioners are increasingly asking patients for feedback, though Dower noted that these data need to be collected systematically and tracked so that trends can be identified. Nurses, she added, have been particularly diligent about conducting national and
ship roles is also relatively clearly defined in the K–3 context, at least by comparison with other early education settings. Demographic differences in the profiles of workers in the various settings that provide care and education also reflect status differences, as some California data suggest. In that state, 26 percent of K–12 teachers, 47 percent of teachers in ECCE centers, and 58 percent of licensed providers are non-white (while 70 percent of children they care for are non-white). As she had previously described, the K–12 teachers earn the most and have the lowest rates of turnover, and a greater percentage of them are male.
From the point of view of young people considering career path-
other surveys. They point with pride to their status as the most trusted profession in the United States, according to the Gallup Poll, which conducts an annual survey of the public to rank professions for their honesty and ethical standards.
Is the field innovative? Nurses have also set an excellent example here, Dower noted. Through the Integrated Nurse Leadership Program in California, for example, nurses were given the authority to develop new ways to reduce infection rates and mistakes in hospitals. They developed new techniques and systems and were able to make significant improvements in both areas. Technology has also exceeded expectations as a feasible option for allowing care to be delivered remotely, Dower noted, and has provided more avenues for innovation.
Are practitioners and care or service accessible? Being truly accessible, Dower explained, begins with attention to geographic, language, and financial issues. Professionals need to be available and practicing in the neighborhoods where people live. Addressing this problem requires data on where practitioners are located and the languages they speak (and how well). The financial issues are complex in the current political environment, but working to make affordable care available is nonetheless a key responsibility of these professions.
Are there professional and advocacy groups to advance the profession? These groups take the lead in both articulating and pursuing goals for the profession and are its most public face. A leadership structure is necessary for those things to happen, however, and Dower noted how frequently the leadership is fractured in medicine and other fields. She looked again to nursing as an example of how that problem can be addressed. Each state regulates nurse practitioners differently, and wide variation exists in the scope of practice. As a result, nurse practitioners cannot easily move from state to state—“it’s almost not the same profession,” she noted, “so it’s a big problem.” For many years nursing groups were in conflict, but a group of leading nursing organizations has developed a consensus model that they hope can rectify the situation. Dower pointed to models for this approach in other professions as well (Goffin, 2009).
ways, she suggested, the most attractive pathway is clearly the K–12 job. Whitebook shared the words of one director:
I see these young girls starting out in the early childhood teaching field today and I want to say, “Do you realize what you’re doing? You’re spending a lot of time getting into a field that’s not going to offer you anything in the long term.” And I really hate to say that, because teachers are needed.
What is needed, in Whitebook’s view, is a system that works well for workers with varying backgrounds and aspirations, whether they embark on the path having little more than a high school diploma, having
taken early childhood classes at a community college, or having achieved a bachelor’s degree (B.A.) or higher. As it is now, the system is difficult to navigate and few sources of information and support for either young people or more experienced workers looking for ways to advance exist to help them make decisions about employment and education. For example, courses offered at the community college may or may not help teachers and caregivers in their jobs, may not be of high quality, and may not help them earn more or advance. Counseling and peer support, as well as scholarships and financial aid, are important supports. Many prospective and current teachers and caregivers also need flexible school and work schedules to continue their education, as well as tutoring and computer supports (Whitebook et al., 2011).
A variety of efforts to address these challenges is under way, Whitebook noted. Several states have developed career ladders for early childhood workers that strengthen their higher education capacity and other training options. Improving wages poses a more difficult challenge in the current economic environment—and indeed at any time—but it is a critical contribution, she added. Efforts to improve data collection and to develop more standard protocols so that states can more easily share data are under way. These efforts may help states provide more consistent opportunities for workers. Whitebook concluded that no single tool will improve what she described as the infrastructure of the ECCE workforce. She stressed the importance and interrelatedness of preparation, support for ongoing learning, and rewards. “If we just build one piece then it’s not going to be an efficient system.”
Education and training are critical components to having an ECCE workforce that is able to meet the needs of children and families. Pamela Winton, senior scientist and director of outreach at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provided an overview of the current system and the issues it presents. She focused her presentation on six questions developed by the workshop planning committee:
What do we know about the education and training of the early care and education workforce?
How does the early childhood field recognize the credibility of education and training programs?
How do individuals demonstrate their knowledge and skills in conjunction with education and training programs, and how does that relate to certification?
4. Are education and training opportunities standardized at the state, regional, or local levels?
5. To what extent are professional development providers certified, expected to demonstrate specific knowledge and skills, and supported in their own development?
6. Are education and training integrated across key sectors (child care, Head Start, public prekindergarten, early intervention) or organized separately within individual sectors?
She concluded her presentation by summarizing her views and providing a set of recommendations.
1. What do we know about the education and training of the early care and education workforce?
First, she noted, information about workforce participation in education and training is not neatly organized or easy to find. One challenge relates to the definition of these terms. One might think that education is what happens before individuals enter the field and training is the additional education they receive while on the job. In practice, however, individuals take so many pathways to employment, degrees, and certification that clear, agreed-on definitions are difficult, making it hard to interpret the existing data, she explained (Maxwell et al., 2006). The field also lacks data collection systems that adequately document the education and training of ECCE workers. Some states have training registries, often limited to one sector (e.g., child care), but national data on workforce participation in education and training or on those who provide education and training experiences do not exist.
Winton uses the inclusive term “professional development” as defined by the National Professional Development Center on Inclusion, an organization devoted to assisting states in improving professional development for early childhood educators (Buysse et al., 2009; NPDCI, 2008)1:
Professional development is facilitated teaching and learning experiences that are transactional and designed to support the acquisition of professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions as well as the application of this knowledge in practice. (NPDCI, 2008, p. 3)
This definition includes both preservice education and subsequent training on the theory that the nature of the education is more important than when or where it takes place. The key aspects of professional development to be assessed would be the characteristics and contexts of the
learners (the “who”), the content imparted (the “what”), and the way in which the learning experience is organized and presented (the “how”).
2. How does the early childhood field recognize the credibility of education and training programs?
Not only are few data available for enumerating and evaluating professional development, but also numerous sectors exist within the field of ECCE (e.g., child care, Head Start, public prekindergarten, early intervention, preschool disabilities, family support, and so on) with funding and authority for providing early childhood professional development. These points may partly account for the difficulty the field has had in settling on professional standards, Winton observed, adding that the field has too many sets of standards and means of accreditation. Although each may have value, a lack of integration leads to numerous gaps and duplications.2 The standards are mostly voluntary and may not be as useful as they could be because they do not fully reflect emerging research in developmental and educational science and changing demographics in the field, for example.
Winton described a number of promising efforts. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC/CEC) have begun to align their standards, and Zero to Three, a nonprofit group focused on the welfare of infants and toddlers, is defining the competencies needed by people across sectors who work with very young children, and structuring professional development goals that align with them (Gebhard et al., 2010).
3. How do individuals demonstrate their knowledge and skills in conjunction with education and training programs, and how does that relate to certification?
The way in which individuals can learn and demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have gained from education and training is another question mark for the field, Winton observed. Research linking practitioners’ practice-based knowledge and their use of evidence-based practices to improve outcomes for children and families holds promise as a way of structuring professional development and evaluation. Unfortu-
2 Winton noted that organizations that have standards for early childhood educators include NAEYC, the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Child Development Association, and Council for Exceptional Children.
nately, Winton noted, most professional development still places the most emphasis on induction, general compliance, and general knowledge, and relatively little on research-based practices (Lambert et al., 2010).
In Winton’s view, systematically integrating existing standards across early childhood sectors and making explicit links to practices will be important. The CONNECT Project (the Center to Mobilize Early Childhood Knowledge) is addressing this need by designing instructional modules for early childhood faculty and professional development providers that are focused on research-based practices drawn from the professional and program standards of the NAEYC, DEC/CEC, and Head Start. The modules are designed to develop teachers’ capacity to use multiple sources of evidence in making decisions about their practice. Another promising example is the “My Teaching Partner” program, a professional development component of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) (Pianta et al., 2005), a widely used observational measure of classroom quality.
4. Are education and training opportunities standardized at the state, regional, or local levels?
Ideally, education and training opportunities would be standardized at the state, national, and local levels. However, Winton suggested that the field should be able to answer “What do we know about effective professional development that we would want to standardize?” Small-scale programs have been recognized as effective, but bringing them to scale remains a challenge. Although much has been written about what constitutes effective professional development, she noted, “there is only a tiny, slim body of research that demonstrates the causal connection among early childhood professional development, research-based practices, and child and family outcomes.” That is true in the K–12 context (Wei et al., 2009) and in the context of special education (Goe and Coggshall, 2007) as well, she added, noting that “we just don’t have the rigorous studies.”
Unfortunately, she noted, this means that when policy makers ask how professional development dollars should be invested, the answer has to be “it’s complicated.” The answer depends on the “who” (who are the learners and who is available to implement the professional development?), the “what” (what do the learners need to know and be able to do?), and the infrastructure support for change (factors such as access, outreach, and resources).
At this stage, Winton explained that the research community has developed several themes to guide effective professional development approaches:
Focus on research-based practices rather than general knowledge;
Include learning opportunities that are of sufficient duration and intensity and that address the need for guided practice and corrective feedback;
Provide regular opportunities for collaborative problem solving and shared inquiry and learning;
Connect the content and methods of professional development with program standards, curriculums, and assessments used in practice; and
Determine how to establish teacher/caregiver proficiency for specific early care and education practices.
Given the relatively general guidance available from research, Winton stressed that “one size does not fit all.” Being responsive to practical needs in particular circumstances is important. For example, if a new regulation has been imposed, workers might benefit from a one-time workshop or webinar to build awareness, even though that model does not fit the vision she had just described. Nevertheless, the intensive, sustained approaches hold the most promise for building the kind of skilled workforce described throughout the workshop as most effective.
Moreover, she suggested that developing operational definitions and identifying essential features of consultation, coaching, and mentoring should happen before spending freely on these strategies. Given cost constraints, she added, the possibilities for using technology to deliver some forms of professional development must be carefully explored. For example, many faculty report significant difficulty in locating high-quality settings for students to conduct the practical component of their training. At the same time, administrators and supervisors complain about recent graduates who have no idea how to work with ethnically and linguistically diverse children. Video demonstrations of exemplary practices offer a means of bridging logistical gaps for programs.
5. To what extent are professional development providers certified, expected to demonstrate specific knowledge and skills, and supported in their own development?
Winton raised other questions about the standards for those who deliver professional development—how they are evaluated and the nature of the pipeline that prepares the faculty and trainers. This area is very undeveloped, she explained. Some state training registries list professional development providers, but, in general, few people are thinking about this issue. Data are not adequate to describe the knowledge, skills, and practices of those who are delivering education and training (Hyson
et al., in press). A few programs support faculty development, she noted, including CONNECT, ResearchConnections, and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, which runs a competitive grant program for innovations in preparation programs and leadership development.
6. Are education and training integrated across key sectors (child care, Head Start, public prekindergarten, early intervention) or organized separately within individual sectors?
Winton observed that one of the most pressing needs in addressing the workforce challenges is for all involved in the ECCE enterprise to join forces across sectors, especially in lean budgetary times. Existing early childhood systems are not well integrated. Multiple professional development initiatives are ongoing across child care, Head Start, public prekindergarten, preschool disabilities, and early intervention programs, each with different funding streams, missions, and standards (Buysse et al., 2009; Winton et al., 2008). “Whether we call it a profession, a workforce, a sector, or an industry,” she added, “there has got to be a way to put it all together or we are going to be in trouble.” The challenge is that people working in these fields, with good intentions, tend to work in silos, or “fiefdoms.” They are going to have to “give up unilateral control of money, autonomy, and authority” if they are to break down the boundaries that constrain integration, she noted.
Efforts at the state level hold some promise in this respect. Many state-level early childhood agencies have increased their emphasis on building systems that function across sectors, and have included professional development in their thinking, she observed. Many national technical assistance projects funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education are working on sharing tools and building partnerships through the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Consortium.
In summary, Winton identified four primary challenges related to the professional development of the ECCE field: (1) lack of a clear definition of professional development; (2) existence of many varied national standards; (3) lack of attention to the quality of professional development, including the use of evidence-based practices and the providers of professional development; and (4) the voluntary and fragmented nature of existing efforts to improve the quality of professional development in ECCE. She closed with four recommendations for improving professional development. Leaders representing the major early childhood sectors should work together to accomplish the following goals:
Develop a shared definition of key terms related to professional development;
Develop a uniform certification/licensure program based on national standards and related core competencies that are linked to research-based practices;
Develop expectations and supports for the providers of professional development; and
Invest in rigorous experimental investigations of professional development interventions.
A panel of discussants pursued several themes from this presentation. Tammy Mann, executive director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the United Negro College Fund, focused on the importance of building diversity in the workforce, and incorporating that perspective into education and training. She noted that postsecondary institutions differ markedly in the rates at which they graduate young people with diverse backgrounds, with 2-year institutions having the greatest success. Historically black 4-year colleges and universities, she added, graduate (proportionally) the greatest number of individuals who are diverse and are interested in early education, as well as the greatest number of men interested in this female-dominated field.
Another concern for Mann was the general lack of preparedness of young people entering postsecondary education, which ultimately influences the readiness of early childhood workers. Deficiencies in academic skills and in social, emotional, and financial skills, as well as in the willingness to persist and succeed, impede young people’s progress, she suggested. These issues affect the pipeline for early childhood workers, and she advocated devoting resources to address this problem.
Sharon Ramey, professor and distinguished Carilion Research Scholar at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, also focused on basic qualifications for work in ECCE. Other fields have basic prerequisites: pilots must meet requirements for vision and hearing, and medical students are screened for mental health problems, for example. These workers need not only good mental and physical health, but also resistance to disease, health care coverage (so they can return to work quickly if they are ill or injured), physical stamina, energy, empathy, and patience. They also need to know health and safety practices for children of different ages, and to understand social and emotional development. They need to understand how children communicate and learn, and how to communicate with families. They probably also need “exceptional open-mindedness,” she added, because in this field they are likely to be called
on repeatedly to change their practice. They also need pride in their work and a commitment to its importance. They need to understand the high stakes associated with their work and be prepared to be held accountable for it.
Martha Zaslow, director of the Office for Policy and Communications at the Society for Research on Child Development and senior scientist at Child Trends, reminded the group of the progress made both in higher education and in the universe of training for workers. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and NAEYC accreditation programs for higher education are national attempts to ensure quality, she noted. The difficulty is that only a fraction of programs apply and about 25 percent are asked to reapply each year because they do not meet the criteria. Programs that face recurring difficulties present an important warning sign, and some programs are even asked not to proceed with their applications. Most such programs, she explained, are not adequately focused on early childhood. Zaslow recommended further study of whether the graduates of these programs actually engage in observably different practices, as well as whether differences exist in the populations that select and enroll in different programs.
Zaslow also noted national efforts to provide quality markers for training, including individual credentialing, program accreditation, and identification of qualified professional development providers. Research is needed here as well, but she cautioned that, for example, an “explosion” of research on coaching has occurred without producing a coherent description of the elements that make coaching successful.
Sue Russell, president of the Child Care Services Association, examined several factors that affect the quality of the workforce and the recognition it receives. She drew on her experience working in North Carolina and working with other states across the country, and her themes reflected much of the workshop discussion, as well. First, the workforce is largely composed of women working for low wages and few benefits. Most have taken a few college courses. A surprising number were first-generation college students, and many struggle with mathematics and literacy requirements as they begin their college education. This population is more racially and ethnically diverse than the typical K–12 teacher population. A large proportion of this workforce would like to earn more credentials and degrees, but it is not easy for them to do so, she added. They need comprehensive supports to progress, and they deserve to see their compensation increase as they make educational progress, she argued.
The challenge, in Russell’s view, is to make sustainable improvements in education levels, compensation, and retention in the workforce, and to link those elements successfully. Currently, the system is not enticing for these students. Logistical and financial obstacles, from transportation to the cost of books, are constraints. Often students are encouraged to take one-at-a-time courses that do not lead them anywhere, in part because of poor articulation within the higher education systems of most states. Often, “the coursework just isn’t very good,” in her view. The standards are not there to encourage or to mandate them to get additional education, and when they do, they receive little recognition. Employers are not always supportive of workers who bring best practices back into their programs, and their compensation will not necessarily increase as they acquire more education.
Thus, in her view, a systematic effort is needed to make continuing education accessible, affordable, and of high quality. For her, this is a social justice issue. Some efforts are under way in states, and among national organizations, but they must go further, she added. Six compensation strategies have shown some promise:
Closed delivery systems, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, that link career ladders, wages, and benefits;
Requirements for parity in pay and benefits with the prekindergarten sector, as has been tried in a few cases, such as New Jersey’s Abbott preschools and public prekindergarten programs in North Carolina;
Wage subsidies to help child care programs meet minimum salary requirements for different types of work, such as the Washington Career Ladder, and San Francisco’s WAGES Plus program;
Individual salary supplements, now offered by about 15 states, that offer regular, graduated supplements to individuals and are tied to education levels. Examples include Child Care WAGE$® and R.E.W.A.R.D.™3 WISCONSIN;
Assistance with health insurance costs—a strategy being used in North Carolina; and
Comprehensive scholarships such as T.EA.C.H. Early Childhood®,4 currently in 22 states and Washington, DC.
Russell also highlighted strategies for improving recognition of these workers. Workforce registries and individual certification are two efforts that states are beginning to adopt. Workforce registries promote profes-
3 Rewarding Education with Wages and Respect for Dedication.
4 Teacher Education and Compensation Helps Early Childhood.
sional growth and allow states to collect workforce data, while also providing recognition for achievements. Most are voluntary, though Nevada has made registration mandatory by 2012. Individual certification, which is relatively new for ECCE, can also be effective. North Carolina, for example, has a new law that will go into effect in 2012 that requires early educator certification and documents education on a 13-level continuum. Individual licensure, as is required in public schools, combines certification of teacher preparation institutions with a license that grants permission to teach. No state has yet adopted this approach, and licensure occurs most frequently at the center level.
However, Russell explained that most of these strategies are only effective to a certain degree. They are not well funded, are rarely implemented systematically, and are incremental in nature. Bigger solutions are needed, she believes. Her primary recommendation is that teacher compensation must be decoupled from parent fees. Specifically, she advocates that:
Expectations for professional development and education standards be linked to strategies and funding for increasing compensation;
States receive or develop funding for an early childhood professional system that is accessible, affordable, and of high quality;
A public awareness campaign that focuses on the value of investing in effective, well-compensated teachers for young children be mounted;
Targeted funding streams be developed to support compensation that supplements (1) the costs of teacher education and compensation in exchange for educational progress and retention, and (2) the costs of providing well-educated and fairly compensated teachers in programs that serve low-income families; and
A special incentive fund be developed for states to reward and support the replication of best practices in early childhood workforce development, compensation, and recognition.
A second panel reflected on the issues this presentation raised and offered additional reflections. Ellen Frede, codirector of the National Institute for Early Education Research, focused first on what the early childhood field can do to improve public understanding of its role and its value. Perhaps, she suggested, “we need to let go of some sacred cows.” While both public prekindergarten teachers and nurses might be surprised to hear themselves described as well-paid, their wages are higher
in comparison with early childhood teachers, and their examples offer some lessons. First, maybe the word “care” should be dropped, Frede suggested, because “care doesn’t say we should be paid a lot of money.” The distinctions within the early education field—among types of providers, settings, and ages of children—do not serve the field well either, she added. These are important distinctions, but stressing them dilutes the message about how important these experiences are to children and families. Moreover, she added, “I don’t know how we get compensation parity if we don’t have one system,” even if the service is delivered in different ways.
The field also needs to assert itself more firmly, she suggested. “We have to quit accepting the idea that we can use the same amount of money and just spread it over more children or take less money and continue to serve the same number of children.” A key to the Abbott Preschool Program’s success, she pointed out, was that it defined a set of quality standards from the beginning and refused to deviate from them.
Jana Martella, executive director of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, agreed that comparisons with the K–12 sector are useful, but noted that that community also has had great frustration over issues of preparation, certification, induction and mentoring, compensation regimes, teacher assessment, and alternate routes to certification.
Shannon Rudisill, director of the Office of Child Care at the Administration for Children and Families, focused on the financial issues. The federal government has made significant recent investments in early education, she observed, but has not found ways to leverage those investments to improve quality. Federal staff frequently consider how many children can be served through a given program at a given cost, but “we have absolutely no model to describe what one more percentage point of quality would look like, or what that would buy,” she explained. However, despite these challenges, Rudisill noted the significance of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for the ECCE workforce. “For us to hit 2014, which is only a few years away, and have every single member of the workforce covered by health insurance, will be huge…. I would strongly encourage you to think about the Affordable Care Act as a momentous milestone for our field.”
Several workshop participants focused on the demands on this workforce. Kindergarten readiness plays an important role in helping children meet the proficiency goals in the elementary years to which such high stakes are attached, and attention to this set of skills has increased the focus on early education. This, in turn, has highlighted the need to strengthen the early childhood workforce. But “it could take years to get [a workforce] that has the skills and knowledge to be able to get children
where they need to be,” one noted. The field is still waiting for greater investment in the supports and resources these educators—both prospective and current teachers—need, and for the clearly defined standards that will allow progress to begin, another observed. Many states have begun instituting coaching and mentoring and other supports specifically designed to strengthen teachers’ skills, but it may be that, one suggested, “we need scripted curriculums for some members of our workforce—it does provide a scaffold for them.” In early education, she added, “we give permission for the program to operate, not to the individual to practice his or her profession.” This also probably needs to change, she added, and may require a conversation with the higher education community on a state-by-state basis.
A final panel of discussants provided their views on the future of ECCE as a profession. NAEYC Executive Director Jerlean Daniel said NAEYC is working hard to build the profession, as are other advocates. Their focus is the whole child, she explained, because it is “so easy to focus on particular policies and end up only addressing a very narrow aspect of what children really need to grow and develop.” They also work to help people understand that early childhood workers have specialized knowledge, but “it is hard and exhausting work and it never seems to be done.” She described a constant “dance between research and practice,” but indicated that “really researchers, policy makers, and practitioners must work together.”
Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, noted that “we don’t have a system of health care in this country any more than we have a system of early care and education.” In her view, what the early education community can learn from health care is that consumers must be their own advocates as they navigate an array of options that are not really “connected to anything central.”
Walter Gilliam, director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University, echoed this view, suggesting that the difficulty is that even the consumers of the service do not necessarily recognize what constitutes high quality, or what is required to make it possible. One consequence is that “we can’t assume that the buyer can actually beware” because the parent—the purchaser—is not in a good position to judge the quality. Compounding this problem is the variability in standards and regulations from state to state. According to Gilliam, the difference between a profession and an occupation is that members of a profession have an identifiable body of knowledge and skills, which most
people not only value, but also believe they do not have themselves. However, few people really understand the challenges of working with 3-year-old children, including the knowledge of developmental differences among them, and the skills needed to differentiate pedagogy to address these differences. They assume that because counting and learning preliteracy skills seem simpler than, say, high school mathematics, the teachers of young children have a much easier job than mathematics teachers do. To Gilliam, the lack of understanding and value placed on the work of the ECCE workforce is the crux of the challenge facing the field.