ECE Degrees as Mirrors

Higher education faculty need to assume more responsibility for the caliber and consistency of preparation programs
Blog Post
July 10, 2018

To facilitate interaction among ideas presented in Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators, Series Editor Stacie G. Goffin offers opening comments. For readers new to the Series, her introduction explains the series' intent.

 Pre-K teacher Amy Rothschild was the first series author to question the content of early childhood educators' preparation programs. Then Laura Bornfreund identified it as an issue often overlooked when examining ECE's thorny knot of preparation and education, compensation and status, and diversity and inclusion. Sally Holloway, a community college faculty member, offers us still another vantage point. In particular, she calls on higher education faculty to assume more responsibility for the caliber and cross-sector consistency of preparation programs, and for ensuring supports are available to support the student community being served.

In her blog, pre-K teacher, Amy Rothschild, shared her contrasting preparation and education experiences and alerted us to the need to unpack what the letters B.A. and M.A. mean in practice. Then Laura Bornfreund, in her recent blog, suggested more effort needs to be directed toward “strengthening and aligning early childhood educators’ preparation and education with the field’s expanding knowledge base, growing understanding of essential practitioner competencies, and increasing need for viable clinical experiences” but that this “outcome depends on finding unified agreement on the knowledge and competencies required of early childhood educators.”

Rothschild’s and Bornfreund’s conclusions represent more than just personal viewpoints. According to a discussion paper authored by the National Academy of Medicine,  “Disparities in access to high-quality early care and education exist across socioeconomic status, ethnicity, immigrant status, and geography. These disparities are in part driven by misalignment or inadequate program standards across all care and education settings, differing professional standards for the early childhood workforce, and inequitable resources allocated to implement high-quality care and education in all settings.”

I don’t think I stand alone in thinking that the preparation and education of early childhood educators needs to be transformed so Bornfreund’s aspiration can be achieved. Early childhood education (ECE) higher education faculty need to step forward and begin aggressively addressing disparities in content, pedagogy, and access.

As teacher educators, we are charged with preparing the ECE workforce, ensuring that our graduates meet and exceed the field’s practice standards. Yet at present, degree programs are like shattered mirrors, reflecting broken, scattered images of ECE as a field of practice without clarity or stability. Some programs focus on pre-K, offering little birth-age three content. Others focus on Child Development with little student teaching or curriculum coursework. Still others are Family Policy and Child Advocacy focused. Higher education faculty, especially at the bachelors’ level, need to figure out how to design their ECE programs so they can be assembled as intact mirrors that reflect ECE’s needs as a field of practice.

Recognized professions achieve this consistency through accreditation of their higher education programs. Power to the Profession, a collaborative effort focused on ECE’s advancement as a profession, is developing updated preparation competencies for ECE’s higher education programs. Once approved, ECE teacher educators should vigorously advocate for AA and BA teacher preparation programs to become accredited. Shifting this expectation into a requirement has the potential to create a pipeline of well-prepared early childhood educators regardless of the higher education program setting.  

Creating consistent content throughout ECE preparation programs will not, however, address all dimensions of our field’s “thorny knot” of preparation and education, compensation and status, diversity and inclusion. In Washington State, members of the Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Council are working on four strategies for responding to our students’ needs as learners.

  1. Removing barriers to accessing higher education. Clear pathways that make the process of degree attainment more meaningful, transparent, and possible are needed. This involves offering an increasing variety of entry and exit points. We have found recruitment and retention improves when transition supports are offered: offering initial courses in students’ first languages; making adult basic education tutoring accessible; proactively advising students to ensure they stay on track; and ensuring scholarship funding is obtainable.  

  2. Tailoring delivery of ECE programs to reflect students’ and employers’ needs.  Courses are increasingly being offered in a variety of modes: online, hybrids, and traditional face to face. Employers and stakeholders are asked to serve on ECE program advisory committees, thereby offering college personnel with feedback on current demands and providing guidance regarding delivery logistics. Additionally, since higher education relies on community child care and early learning centers to provide its students with welcoming practicum sites staffed with reflective supervisors, it is in everyone’s best interest to support on-site supervisors’ development and reward programs that mentor students.  

  3. Bridging the gap between research and practice. Simply imparting information is not sufficient. Students need to see theories in action, see best practice modeled. Ultimately, they need to be able to apply what’s being learned in real situations. College faculty work to hear their students say, “ Now I know why that works so well with children.”

  4. Moving beyond cultural responsiveness and cultural competencies to equipping students with cultural sustaining practices. Implicit biases and restrictive approaches have to be addressed intentionally and deliberately. Faculty are continually exploring new ways of sustaining First Nations’ cultures, for example, through the use of playground designs that highlight natural materials, demonstrate native art, and encourage native language.

I dream of the day I say, “Yes, enter the Early Childhood Education profession. You will find it a challenging, rewarding, and meaningful way to be respected in our community and fairly compensated.” For that day to come, we need a preparation system that ensures the ECE workforce is well educated and accountable for consistently demonstrating the field’s standards, regardless of the program setting. Higher education needs to step up to the challenge of making consistent quality programs of study accessible while also offering responsive student supports. Then, ECE’s mirror image will match its responsibilities, and higher education faculty can confidently recruit and prepare the competent, diverse workforce our children and families deserve.