Q&A with Elizabeth Groginsky on DC's New ECE Credentialing Requirements

Lead teachers in licensed child care centers will have to have an associate's degree by 2020

Photo: Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

In 2015 the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) and the National Research Council released the seminal report, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Over the last two years, initiatives by national and state research and advocacy organizations and state agencies have been underway to lay some groundwork for realizing the report’s recommendations. The recommendations reflect a growing base of research on early brain development and early childhood education that show children begin learning from birth. They call for improvements in higher education, better professional learning for teachers and leaders, increased educational qualifications, and agreement on foundational and specialized competencies for all who work with young children. One key and controversial recommendation is related to educational qualifications for teachers and administrators, calling for a plan to move toward requiring all lead educators of children birth through age eight to attain a bachelor’s degree and specialization in early childhood education.

To help this recommendation take hold, officials will need to carefully phase in new requirements for educators, ensure there are a variety of high-quality and affordable credentialing programs that are flexible enough to support the current workforce, and rethink ECE financing so that educators can earn compensation that matches their skill and knowledge base. Fortunately the Academy is writing a companion report to address financing (including compensation), which is scheduled to come out early next year.

According to a 2013 Child Care Aware report, 17 states do not require lead teachers to even have a high school diploma or GED so in many places there is a steep hill to climb. Our recent Tale of Two Pre-K Leaders report, found only nine states require at least an associate’s degree for directors of licensed child care centers. New Jersey and Vermont require bachelor’s degrees for directors leading large programs. Still, many early childhood teachers and directors across the country do already have an AA or a BA in ECE or a related field.

Washington, DC is one of the most recent places to join the movement toward requiring degrees for teachers and center directors. In DC, lead teachers in licensed child care centers will have to have an associate’s degree by 2020 and directors of those child care centers will have to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood by 2022. The district sees it as part of a larger strategy to improve the classroom quality for its youngest learners as well as a way to create stronger opportunities for advancement for ECE teachers.

The move by DC spurred public debate about what education and training teachers of the youngest children really need. We reached out to Elizabeth Groginsky, Assistant Superintendent of Early Learning at the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and asked her to tell us more about OSSE’s rationale for the new requirements and plans for their implementation.

Below is a Q & A with Groginsky that has been slightly edited for length:


New America: Talk about OSSE’s motivation to increase requirements for early education teachers and directors in Washington, DC by 2020. Why was this a good year to make this move?

Groginsky: At OSSE our work is grounded in sustaining, accelerating, and deepening the progress being made in education to ensure all residents in DC - from infants and toddlers to adult learners - have access to a high-quality and equitable education. One reason this particular requirement is so important is that we know that the first years of a child’s life are the most critical to brain development. The quality of children’s earliest experiences sets them on the path for positive language, cognitive and social-emotional development and builds essential groundwork for them to excel in school. We, along with many advocates, providers, researchers and educators, believe that a more educated and trained child development workforce can have a profound impact on a child’s success and be even more supportive of a child’s development as teachers bring what they learn to their jobs.

The tide is turning toward many states tightening up their standards of care. This focus on credentialing is not new and many centers have directors and educators who have earned higher education degrees. In DC, our preliminary data show that about 38 percent of teachers in our child development facilities already have an associate’s degree or higher in early childhood education or are a few classes away from meeting the minimum requirements of a degree. And, about 80 percent of center directors have a bachelor’s degree or higher in early childhood education or are a few classes away from meeting minimum requirements of this degree. We are proud of what they are accomplishing and the improved skills they are able to bring to the children entrusted to their care as a result of furthering their education. For the remaining workforce yet to begin their higher education journeys, we are committed to supporting them every step of the way.

New America: Some have criticized this policy, declaring that it would result in cost increases for parents, and cost burdens for teachers and directors, and that there is not enough time to meet the new requirements. Can you discuss how you’ve thought about these issues and how you’re addressing them?

Groginsky: First, we are not looking at this one policy in isolation of the district’s efforts to improve the quality and supply of child care seats available to families. We are at the same time addressing affordability and access, in addition to quality. Child care is a market-based industry and DC, like many places in the country, has an unmet demand for infant and toddler care which is contributing to the high cost of care. Many parents in the district are paying non-refundable fees to place their children on waitlists at facilities even before their baby is born. There is incredible urgency to create more supply, especially where the demand is greatest. One way we are addressing this in DC is through the expansion of 1,000 new infant and toddler seats over the next three years – an initiative for which Mayor Bowser has invested $11 million to support facility enhancements and scholarships for early childhood professionals.

To address cost, the district is also set to increase subsidy payments again in next year to meet the needs of low-income working families. OSSE has also made funding available for a shared service business alliance for child development homes and expanded homes. In partnership with the Bainum Family Foundation, we launched a shared services platform, Early Childhood Share DC, in 2016 for all DC licensed child development facilities. This resource is available at no cost and providers have access to state-of-the art policies, handbooks, marketing material, and cost savings. These investments are a step in the right direction to help mitigate costs to both families and providers.

Second, we are not leaving our providers to fend for themselves to meet the credentialing requirements. Teachers have until December 2020 to meet the new minimum requirements and directors have until December 2022.  Because we also value the knowledge that comes with experience, OSSE has made provisions for a center director or qualified teacher who has continuously served in these positions for the past ten years to waive the credentialing requirement. The district invested over $2 million in 2017 and will increase that investment to $3 million in 2018 in scholarships and educational supports to help them get their education. We also have commitments from private philanthropy to help staff meet these new requirements. OSSE invests in the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood® Project, a nationally recognized scholarship program for employed teachers and staff members working toward an associate’s and/or bachelor’s degree. We are also providing high school students with an opportunity to earn the nationally recognized Child Development Associate (CDA) credential while simultaneously completing their high school graduation requirements through a program called First Step.

Third, we are providing centers with a free tool called Quorum that provides staff with unlimited access to a catalogue of engaging and interactive training courses that prepare them for their CDA credential assessment. So far over 200 centers are already using that tool for their staff.

Lastly, we are being realistic about the need for continuous learning throughout this process. We are committed to understanding the real world effects of the regulations, positive or otherwise. In 2018, OSSE will commission an independent and comprehensive study to analyze the effects of the credentialing regulations on the workforce and child development providers. We will use opportunities like these, along with feedback from our parent and provider networks to understand the effects and trends and assess the need to adjust.

New America: It’s not just the degree requirement that is important, it’s also the quality of preparation programs current and future teachers attend. What is OSSE doing to make sure teachers have the knowledge and competencies they need to be successful? Are there any efforts to improve the quality and accessibility of higher ed offerings?

Groginsky: OSSE partners with the Early Childhood Higher Education Collaborative which aims to leverage the resources of local postsecondary institutions to help providers meet the new credentialing requirements and better align the professional development system to ensure clear, competency-based career pathways that improve the professionalism and practice of the early childhood workforce. DC is also a member of the Washington Region Early Care and Education Workforce Network. Through the network, which includes our neighboring cities, we developed a stakeholder informed implementation plan for a competency-based career pathway that is linked to quality and compensation. Higher education institutions are actively engaged in this work and thanks to investments from the local Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, the network has funding to support ongoing research, communications, and coordination to realize this goal.

New America: A recent Atlantic article started by reopening a debate about a difference between “child care” or “day care” and early learning programs. Do you make that distinction? Why or why not?

Groginsky: When you hear us talk about this work, it will likely be through the lens of child care or early childhood education. As far as explicit language is concerned, children are the epicenter of what we do and it’s only natural to underscore that through the language we choose to use.

We know that infants and toddlers are constantly learning and their environments and their teachers matter – especially at this age. Infants and toddlers spend between 40-60 hours a week in our child development facilities, totaling over 2,000 hours annually. Compare this to a three-year old enrolled in pre-K who spends 1,200 hours annually (6.5 hours a day, 180 days a year). We hear sentiments like, “it’s just day care” and “you don’t need a degree to change a diaper.” Indeed, one does not need a degree to change diapers. Years of child development research, however, have demonstrated that what child care providers do is complex and the meaningful interactions they have with young children have long lasting effects on a child’s development and academic progress. That’s why an educated workforce is essential.

New America: The same Atlantic article states that DC’s degree requirement is based, in part, on recommendations from the National Academies’ Transforming the Workforce report. But the report states that evidence regarding the link between teacher education level and quality of instruction is “inconclusive” while also providing more policy rationales for aspiring for higher credentials and higher quality in teacher prep programs. Why did OSSE decide a new degree requirement was the best way to move forward?

Groginsky: Our decision to move forward with the credential requirements was influenced by several factors – a review of research being just one component. We engaged our stakeholders – including providers, staff, parents, and advocates as well. The Transforming the Workforce report noted that “almost all rigorous studies of childhood programs that have shown large effects have come from programs with licensed teachers who have bachelor’s degrees.”  Furthermore, the report states that, “none of the researchers conclude that higher education does not matter… and should not be construed as indicating that teacher education is not important for quality.”

The credentialing regulation is grounded in a diverse body of research that shows that a highly competent early childhood workforce is associated with the quality of child care. Such studies include the works of the Center of the Developing Child, Zero to Three, and the National Research Council. Research also shows that brain development is rapid during the first few years, which is a key factor in determining its lifelong capacity for growth and change. A young child’s environment and support from caregivers greatly impact later success. It is critical for the early childhood workforce to be equipped with an understanding of development and the skillset for supporting development.

Aiming for excellence in our early education workforce addresses both equity and quality. We have a pretty significant academic achievement gap in DC and we know the achievement gap can start as early as 18 months of age. Higher education enables our early childhood professionals to connect child development theory and brain science to their everyday practice. It enhances their communication skills and gives them the skills, knowledge, and competencies they need to care for and educate our youngest residents.

New America: Ideally, additional education requirements would lead to increased compensation. In some cases, that has happened, but in others, financing structures for early childhood education programs and current labor market are keeping wages low. What is OSSE doing to increase teacher and director compensation?

Groginsky: These credentialing requirements can create new opportunities for a portion of our labor force that have given a lot to the community and received very little recognition and support in return. To help increase wages, the district raised its infant and toddler subsidy rates in 2013, 2017, and will again in 2018 to meet the rising costs of care. In addition, DC’s minimum wage was raised to $12.50 in July 2017 and will increase by about 70 cents per year until it reaches $15.00 in 2020.

New America: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Groginsky: We encourage you to visit OSSE’s website where we have created a user-friendly way for child development educators and staff to access supports and resources to support them on their education journey at www.osse.dc.gov/eceresources.

Author:

Laura Bornfreund is director of early & elementary education policy with the Education Policy program and co-director of the Family Centered Social Policy program at New America. She leads a team of writers and analysts working on new ideas for improving children’s birth-through-third grade learning experiences.