Oft-Overlooked Threads Woven into ECE’s Thorny Knot

Blog Post
June 26, 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.

Laura Bornfreund was asked to review the series' most recent five blogs and identify emerging themes along with their policy implications. She lifts up three issues too often masked, and consequently by-passed, in discussions about the three primary threads comprising ECE's thorny knot: early childhood educators' preparation and education, compensation and status, and diversity and inclusion.

Moving Beyond False Choices' second author cohort appears largely to agree that early childhood educators play an important role in young children’s learning and development. Yet these authors also raise issues needing increased attention if early childhood education (ECE) is to unify around more rigorous expectations for higher education degrees and credentials.

Three issues in particular are worth further exploration:

● the role of family child care providers in the ECE ecosystem,

● how well higher education programs equip early educators with what they need, and

● systemic barriers related to race, gender, and class.

Family child care providers: The need for a sector-specific solution

Child Trends recently reported that 97 percent of child care settings are homes, not centers. Of those homes, 27.5 percent are family child care providers who receive payment for their services. This represents approximately 1,037,000 family child care providers as compared to 129,000 child care centers. Yet paradoxically, much of the field’s current discussions and efforts to advance ECE’s workforce are focused on child care centers and public schools.

Jessica Sanger stated in her post that “limited recognition (is) accorded family child care providers given their contribution to ECE’s delivery system,” an assessment confirmed by the above findings. Since family child care providers have responsibility for deepening — and sometimes even providing — the foundation for many children’s future learning, not unlike their colleagues in center- and school-based settings, they are receiving too little recognition for their important role.

It’s no easy task to assist center-based child care educators acquire the knowledge and competencies necessary for meeting young children’s needs. Doing so for family child care providers presents an entirely different scenario given their unique challenges. As Josephine Queen notes for us,

The family child care providers I know tend to be working or lower class, living paycheck to paycheck. This makes attaining a formal education degree financially out of reach for most of us. Some also are single parents and lack resources to pay for child care while attending classes. Plus, running a home-based business means few of us can carve out time to gain the required practical experience and requisite hours needed for degrees since, typically, working in one’s own home child care under one’s own supervision and tutelage is not credit-bearing.

Naming these issues, as Maurice Sykes cautions us, mustn’t be used to cast blame. Instead, they should alert us to the fact that real challenges exist and underscore that acknowledging them is essential to forging viable solutions for increasing this sector‘s level of education and credentials.

Beyond a Unitary Focus on Higher Education Degrees and Credentials

Once we set the right standards for educational and credential requirements and find effective strategies to assist current and future educators meet them, we’re done, right?

Not so fast.

It’s no secret that too many ECE degree programs leave early childhood educators without the knowledge and competencies for effectively interacting with young children. Amy Rothschild explains that she sought out a non-traditional teacher preparation program because it provided extensive practical experiences linked to observations and insights from experienced early childhood educators. To earn her master's degree, she also took courses at a university, and recounts that, “...the university courses were too often rote. I felt like I was paying the piper, rather than learning the art of teaching or even the nuts and bolts of practice. Everyone seemingly passed with flying colors just by showing up.”

Setting preparation and education requirements and extending supports for those seeking to meet ECE’s expanding expectations clearly is insufficient by itself. In fact, these investments may even be detrimental if not linked with educator preparation programs capable of ensuring

  • early childhood educators know the latest science of child development and early learning, including their connections to practice;
  • are immersed in content areas such as early math and science;
  • have ample opportunities to develop practice skills in a range of settings; and
  • engage in meaningful discussions about challenges children confront as learners.

Systemic Barriers Related to Race, Gender, and Class

Finally, Maurice Sykes calls on us to shift our conversational focus from adults to children when it comes to teacher degrees and compensation. He contends that “Every child needs and deserves a highly qualified, highly effective, and highly competent early childhood educator.” He also reminds us that throughout U.S. history low-income men and women and people of color have successfully attained degrees, leading him to ask, “what’s all the hullabaloo?”

I agree. ECE — and society at large — have obligations to address systemic barriers related to race, gender, and class that promulgate negative assumptions about what early childhood educators and the children whose learning and development they foster can and cannot accomplish. The challenges too many people face when attempting to advance their education need to be alleviated.

Acting on What We’re Learning

And then there’s the ever-present policy question of who’s going to pay for it?

Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education proposes a price tag of $140 billion, which as Luis Hernandez noted in his post, is a number politicians are unlikely to embrace. Still, this figure at last gives us an estimation of what is needed to develop a competent workforce, inclusive of costs for transforming higher education, supporting degree attainment by ECE’s current workforce, and providing an appropriate level of compensation.

However, while an important part of the equation, increased financing alone won’t ensure every child has well-prepared and highly effective early childhood educators. First, ECE as a field of practice, policymakers, and other stakeholders must learn to value the abilities of early childhood educators to co-create innovative, sustainable solutions for attaining more rigorous education and credentials -- a viewpoint also articulated by Sherri Killins Stewart in an earlier post.

Second, still 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. This outcome, though, depends on finding unified agreement for the knowledge and competencies required of early childhood educators, as well as state incentives — including funding —to incentivize preparation programs to change. Additionally, strategies must be developed for overcoming barriers of race, gender, and class that have limited past progress and will inhibit future possibilities.

Only if these three oft-overlooked threads are addressed will ECE be able to unify around more rigorous expectations for higher education degrees and credentials and give every child access to the educators they need and deserve.

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* Updated 6/28/18 at 9:48am to correct the number of children in home-based child care settings versus child care centers. The following line was deleted: "This means a majority of children in formal ECE arrangements are in homes, not child care centers." While there are more family child care settings, the majority of children in formal care are in center-based settings.

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