by Claudina Hannon
A system that provides high-quality early childhood education to all young children in the United States is the ideal for many early childhood educators, families and communities. This raises a big question: what does it really take to reach this goal?
Funding is often the most frequent response.
Many experts and policymakers agree there is a need for major public investment to improve access to quality early childhood facilities, increase teacher training and also increase teacher salaries. Yet, it’s often difficult for early childhood education programs to obtain the funding levels needed to serve all families in their communities.
To attract and keep high-quality educators in the early education field, communities must look for ways to make public and private investments in their local education systems.
Where early childhood educators receive their experience and training matters – a lot – because experience and training are two important factors that determine how successful a teacher will be in an early childhood setting. Early childhood education currently relies too heavily on the quality and commitment of the early childhood educators themselves.
Think about what these teachers are doing for our youngest children, their families and communities:
- Ensuring healthy development of young children
- Providing a safe learning environment
- Helping their physical development and cognitive growth
These are three good reasons why education providers, families and communities should put a premium on high-quality preparation programs for early childhood educators because these programs have been demonstrated to contribute to the success of a child for decades to come.
Cathy Condi has been a family child care provider for more than 10 years. During this time, she advanced professionally after obtaining her Child Development Associate (CDA®) credential, a requirement for all Indiana early educators who have a state child care license. This was possible with the guidance and financial assistance of the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children and the T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) Scholarship.
Condi decided to, as she put it, “challenge herself” and earned her associate’s degree with the assistance of T.E.A.C.H. Cathy graduated with honors in 2016.
“With all this experience and knowledge in early childhood, it allows me to see each child individually and their actions signal me to do something and act accordingly based on their personalities, actions, and development. I love to take care of people, and helping to grow these little minds is so important,” she explains.
But many educators don’t have the same options that Condi had.
Due to lack of resources and opportunities, pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education to improve skills and advance careers is often financially difficult or, for some, impossible.
Additionally, working in low-paying early education positions makes it hard to manage the expense of additional education courses. This can lead many early educators to seek other education career opportunities that offer more financial rewards.
Raising wages will take community and government investment, including more support at the federal level. A successful wage initiative needs public and private sector support that includes strong communications to effectively inform elected officials about the community benefits of additional early childhood spending.
Rosa Flores, a bilingual (Spanish and English) early educator in Virginia, sees the impact low wages and the cost of educational training have on her job as an educator.
“I’m financially responsible for my own educational training and the training of my child care assistants. This creates pressure to motivate them professionally to stay in early education, and to also keep them happy by paying them a competitive salary for the work they do,” she said.
Public and private investments in early education can be achieved. For example, the state of Indiana has stepped up to invest in its early childhood educational systems by ensuring their early educators have viable options when it comes to their professional development and higher education pathways. As seen with Condi, this goal becomes attainable when appropriate public and private support is available.
Two options a potentially resolve this issue are financial assistance through education scholarships and professional development incentives. The District of Columbia’s Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is now requiring all home caregivers, associate caregivers and assistant teachers, working in a license early childhood education setting, have a Child Development Associate (CDA®) credential by December 2018.
“The District understands that cost is and will continue to be a driver in improving early childhood education. While we are working to provide consistent quality in all settings, we are also looking for the right model that will provide sufficient long-term investment in our youngest children,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, assistant superintendent of Early Learning for the District.
Valora Washington, CEO at the Council for Professional Development, which administers the CDA credential, said she the intent behind OSSE’s new early childhood education workforce requirements.
The important aspects about the CDA are the training and competency-based experiences available through a growing number programs throughout the United States. The CDA is required as part of Head Start and U.S. military early childhood education programs. In fact, in many communities such as Washington, D.C., CDA training programs and credential applications are affordable, can be earned through high school Career Technical Education programs and completed by high school graduates (and GED). Many communities, including D.C., have scholarship or financial aid programs that help CDA students obtain required training.
During July 2017, more than 100 early childhood educators graduated with their CDAs through the Action for Children’s CDA training program in Columbus, Ohio; an effort that was possible with the assistance of scholarships. Today, early educators can obtain information on available scholarships through their local child care resource and referral agencies, nonprofit early childhood organizations, and even higher education institutions.
While the options for early educator training exist, it’s essential to consider the potential behind the combination of training and experience and how it can make a difference in the way curricula is built from and how children can learn most effectively according to their age group, development and setting. Additionally, we need to provide improved options for professional development through funding for early childhood educators who are dedicated to their daily work and to advance their career goals.
It’s a realistic effort that takes motivation and collaboration, and the end result is so much more rewarding than having a high-quality workforce, it is making a positive and long-lasting impact on the lives of young children, whose cognitive, physical, and emotional development relies on the knowledge of the educators who care for them during their first years of life.