As adults with responsibility for young children, all professionals in the early care and education workforce have a similarly complex and challenging scope of work and make a highly valuable contribution to healthy child development and early learning. However, the sophistication and complexity of these professional roles are not consistently recognized and reflected in practices and policies regarding education requirements, professional learning expectations and supports, and compensation and other working conditions.
Science has converged on the importance of early childhood, but that understanding is not yet reflected in recognition of the critical role of the professionals who work with young children from infancy through the early elementary years. There is a growing base of knowledge about how children learn and develop, what children need from their interactions and relationships with adults, and what adults should be doing to support children from the beginning of their lives. Yet that knowledge is not consistently channeled to adults who are responsible for supporting the development and early learning of children, and those adults are not consistently implementing that knowledge in their professional practice and interactions with young children. This gap exists in large part because current policies and systems fall far short of placing enough value on the knowledge and competencies required of high-quality professionals in the care and education workforce for children birth through age 8, and the expectations and conditions of their employment do not adequately and consistently reflect their significant contribution to children’s long-term success.
Much is known not only about what professionals who provide care
and education for young children should know and be able to do, but also about what professional learning and other supports are needed for prospective and practicing educators. Although this knowledge and understanding has informed standards and other statements and frameworks articulating what should be, those standards are not fully reflected in the current capacities, practices, and policies of the workforce and their leadership; the settings and systems in which they work; the infrastructure and systems that set qualifications and provide professional learning in higher education and during ongoing practice; and the government and other funders that support and oversee those systems.
The breakdowns that have led to this gap include the lingering influence of historical differences in how different professional roles have evolved with different expectations and status; limited mutual understanding, communication, and strategic coordination across decentralized and diverse communities of practice and policy; and a lack of a concerted effort to review and improve professional learning systems that support educators before and during practice. These barriers impede both improving how the current workforce is supported and transforming how the future workforce is cultivated. Changes within and across multiple systems are needed to strengthen the early care and education workforce through supports that include informed leadership; access to high-quality degree-granting programs; ongoing professional learning opportunities; practice environments that enable and reinforce the quality of their work; and attention to their working conditions, well-being, compensation, and perceived status or prestige. These changes would help lead to a convergent rather than a divergent approach to caring for and teaching young children, one that would allow for continuity from birth through elementary school settings.
Perspectives from the Field
“We’ll never move things forward unless we create disruption.”
See Appendix C for additional highlights from interviews.