The Field Comes Together to Advance Equity in Early Ed

Blog Post
Oct. 28, 2019

Last month, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) released a new position statement, "Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education." At the core of this statement is the understanding that all young children—regardless of factors such as race, ethnicity, home language, or socioeconomic status—have a right to equitable early learning opportunities. This marks NAEYC’s 5th position statement, and the first one the organization has released since 2011.

In a time of vitriolic rhetoric and policy decisions that harm children in the United States, the position statement’s vision for our youngest learners is especially important:

Each child will

  • demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities;
  • express comfort and joy with human diversity, use accurate language for human differences, and form deep, caring human connections across diverse backgrounds;
  • increasingly recognize and have language to describe unfairness (injustice) and understand that unfairness hurts;
  • have the will and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and/or discriminatory actions.

Achieving these ambitious goals cannot be accomplished by the early education workforce alone, and the position statement is clear that big changes are needed from stakeholders at all levels. Everyone has a role to play. At the most basic level, NAEYC calls on all actors to start by reflecting on their own behavior, including acknowledging their own biases. We all have room to grow when it comes to understanding structural inequities and acknowledging that the way we have interpreted or acted on situations in the past may not be the best practice.

NAEYC believes early childhood educators have a professional responsibility to strive for equity-focused policies and practices. The position statement calls on the workforce to develop children’s home languages, differentiate care based on children’s unique needs, examine their own biases, and much more. Multiple recommendations specifically address building relationships with families and involving them in children’s learning activities. Educators are also encouraged to take on the role of advocate and stand up against practices and policies that promote bias or inequity. To do these things successfully, the workforce will need more support than it currently has.

Program administrators have the ability to provide some of this support. Leaders can take steps to hire staff at all levels that reflect children’s cultural backgrounds and speak their home language. They can select assessments that are validated for the population being served. They can also seek out opportunities for professional learning that equip teachers and leaders to better confront equity issues, such as implicit bias.

While reaching current staff through in-service professional learning is hugely important, there also needs to be a commitment to equity in pre-service learning to achieve NAEYC's vision. Preparation programs have an important role to play in ensuring that early educators enter their roles knowing how to best serve all children in their charge. Equally important is ensuring that all early educators have access to quality preparation programs. NAEYC recommends working with the community to reform higher education to address issues of access and quality. Not only is higher education often financially inaccessible, strapping students with insurmountable debt, but other barriers like classes scheduled during working hours, lack of campus child care, and limited support for English learners, make it difficult for students to achieve their goals. Much of the workforce utilizes community colleges during their educational journey, but poorly designed transfer and articulation agreements (as New America has written about) make it hard for them to advance to four-year schools. This year our team is exploring how to reform institutions of higher education to better meet the unique needs of this workforce.

Supportive public policies will be instrumental in enabling the workforce and institutions of higher education to make the goals laid out in the position statement a reality. The position statement’s 11 recommendations for public policymakers range from the broad, like “Use an equity lens to consider policy impacts on all children and on the bonds between them and their families,” to the more specific, like making sure programs use “assessments that are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate.” The recommendation to promote multilingualism for all children is one that New America’s English Learner team has written about extensively.

One fundamental recommendation is to increase funding enough to provide all children with high-quality early education services, using the National Academy of Medicine’s Transforming the Financing report as a guide. This includes adequate money for higher education and improving workforce compensation so that those caring for our children are no longer paid less than telemarketers. The statement calls on policymakers to ensure that early educators working in different settings and with different age groups receive comparable compensation for comparable qualifications. This would be an important step for creating equity within the workforce, as women of color disproportionately care for infants and toddlers and are paid less than their counterparts serving pre-K students.

This comprehensive position statement offers numerous additional recommendations for stakeholders. It was endorsed by more than 100 organizations, including New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team. It is an important step for NAEYC and the field at large. Many organizations have been shifting their agendas to include a more meaningful focus on equity in recent years, and this position statement can function as a guiding document for this work. NAEYC says, “In this statement, we share our commitment to becoming a more diverse, high-performing, and inclusive organization serving a more diverse, high-performing, and inclusive profession.” NAEYC will continue to produce resources in the coming months to support equity in early childhood education.

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