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Power to the Profession Task Force: Be Bold and Aspirational

On the heels of the seminal report, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) announced Power to the Profession, a collaborative initiative to define and advance early childhood education as a recognized professional field of practice. Since that time, NAEYC and the 14 other organizations that are part of the Power to the Profession national Task Force have been working to gather perspectives, make recommendations, and outline a path forward for a new early childhood education profession. (New America is not part of this task force, but we are one of 30+ stakeholder groups.)

This is an important undertaking, but not an easy one. So, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that and thank the members of the Task Force for their commitment to the work and to NAEYC for bringing them together. The latest series of draft recommendations from the Task Force show just how arduous it can be to move away from current realities and toward real aspirations for equipping current and future early childhood educators with what they need to meet the learning needs of young children, birth through age eight.

Doing more than the status quo, though, is imperative for equity for children and the workforce.

Among other areas, the task force makes draft recommendations for qualifications for early childhood educators. On the one hand, the group establishes a unified floor for all individuals working directly with children, recommending at least 120 clock hours as part of an organized early childhood education program of study; think the CDA. This is important because in some states “lead teachers” are not even required to have a high school diploma or any early childhood training. On the other hand, the recommendations essentially solidify what already exists in most places today: too low of a bar for teachers in infant, toddler, and pre-K settings and an artificial divide between birth-to-five and K-3rd grade.

According to the draft that emerged from Power to the Profession’s latest discussions, the minimum qualification for an early childhood educator who has primary responsibility for children’s learning and development in a birth through pre-K classroom would be an associate’s degree from an early childhood education program of study. (For those teachers in K-3rd grade classrooms it would stick with the current public school model: a bachelor’s degree, but with the requirement that it come from an early childhood education program of study.) The draft recommendation for pre-K teachers disregards the progress that has been made in pre-K in places such as the 31 “Abbott” districts in New Jersey, the district of Washington, DC, and across the state of Oklahoma that do require lead pre-K teachers to have bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, not recognizing pre-K teachers and K-3 teachers as peers who have achieved (or are on track to achieve) the same level of qualifications could further complicate efforts to better connect them.  

The Power to the Profession Task Force’s draft is also a departure from the recommendation by the Transforming the Workforce committee, which called for the field to move toward a bachelor’s degree with specialized knowledge and competencies for all lead teachers of children birth through age eight. We know from research that a significant amount of learning and development occurs in the first years of children’s lives. Teaching young children, building their language, numeracy, and early science skills and helping them understand the world around them is complex work. The Transforming the Workforce report delves into the reasons why and explains the importance of higher education attainment and specialization for teachers and how these can contribute to higher status and compensation for an early childhood education profession. The task force should be thinking about what it really means to advance the early childhood education field and what is needed in the future to get there. Many teachers of younger children want to (as long as they are supported through the process and compensated appropriately) and believe it is important to attain higher degrees so they can better meet the needs of our youngest learners.

The Power to the Profession initiative is an opportunity to not just set standards, qualifications, etc., but also to reimagine roles in birth through 3rd grade settings. For example, what role in an infant and toddler classroom would need the bachelor’s degree recommended by the Transforming the Workforce report? Maybe it is not what the field currently identifies as the “lead teacher” in those classrooms. Perhaps instead, it is a “lead teacher” role who works across multiple classrooms, plans activities and assessments, understands developmental delays, and models for and provides support to the other teachers in those infant and toddler classrooms.

Thinking in new ways and making bold recommendations for roles, qualifications, pathways, and preparation (as well as compensation, accountability, quality assurance, and infrastructure that will be addressed in the task force’s future meetings) will be necessary for realizing the recommendations of Transforming the Workforce and the new financing report, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education. But additional recommendations shouldn’t be made without their alignment to a finalized set of standards and competencies for early childhood educators. That finalized set of competencies may not emerge for many months, and yet it should be the starting point for determining what types of qualifications an early childhood educator will need to meet.

Balancing urgency with patience is never simple, but both are important for ensuring equity and quality for children who attend early education classrooms, birth through age eight, and for the advancement of the early childhood education workforce. It’s time to slow the process down and take the time needed to get the vision right.

The process isn’t complete and the Power to the Profession task force does want to hear from the field and other stakeholders. So share your own thoughts by April 30 on the draft with the task force by email or by completing their survey.