At the heart of Transforming the Workforce is this: children are greatly affected by their early learning and development opportunities and the relationships and interactions they have with caregivers both inside and outside of home. Decades of research tells us much about how children learn and develop, what professionals who provide care and education for children need to know and be able to do to maximize their learning and development, and what professional learning programs are needed for prospective and practicing early educators. Research and best practice, however, are not fully reflected in the current capacities, practices, and policies of the workforce, the settings and systems in which it operates, and the infrastructure and systems that set the qualifications and provide professional learning. Nor are they reflected by government and other funding that support and oversee those systems. This disconnect is detrimental to our youngest learners, and an injustice to our youngest learners from disadvantaged families. Given what science has demonstrated about the long-term impact of the early years, this neglect is leading to costly expenditures for remediation and a loss of potential in the next generation.
The committee behind the Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation report offers a “Blueprint for Action” that puts forward 13 recommendations along with a discussion of necessary considerations to better connect the research with policy and practice and ultimately improve outcomes for children. As state and local leaders; policy, research, and advocacy organizations; philanthropies; and the field itself begin the work to put the blueprint into action, it will be important to balance the real urgency for transformation with thoughtfulness and a realistic sense of the time it takes to bring meaningful and lasting change.
These recommendations can only be accomplished through long-term strategies coupled with short-term actions. The recommendations should not be read as sequential; every state and community is starting at a different point. Every state and community has its own conditions and situation to consider. For instance, states that won Race to the Top– Early Learning Challenge grants or Preschool Development Grants during the Obama Administration may have already begun several workforce development efforts. Other states have participated in technical assistance opportunities provided over the years by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, T.E.A.C.H. National Center, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes, or other organizations. Since the report’s release, nine states and one regional team have participated in the National Academy of Medicine’s Innovation to Incubation initiative. Some cities and school districts are farther along than the rest of the state that they call home. Several states will be just beginning the journey.
States, in particular, are positioned to be drivers of change and will need to begin by assessing the progress that has been made and where they are lacking. Connecting with and learning from peer states will be important. Some leaders are already engaged in promising efforts with the potential for replication or adaptation. And a cadre of national organizations is working collaboratively to support the transformational work and to avoid duplication of efforts. Philanthropic organizations are coming together as well to leverage funding to better support national and state work.
“The lack of consistency [in standards for qualifications] is dissonant with what the science of early learning reveals about the foundational core competencies that all care and education professionals need and the importance of consistency in learning experiences for children in this age range.” (pg. 509)
Requirements and expectations for educators of children from B–8 vary greatly. Rather than being based on the science of early learning, they are instead based on educator title, age of children, care and education setting, and the agency with authority to set qualification requirements. The result is a dizzying array of requirements, voluntary standards, certificates, endorsements, and credentials. For current and prospective early care and education professionals, navigating the process of entering the field, staying in the field, or advancing in the field can be daunting to say the least.
Recommendation 1: Strengthen competency-based qualification requirements for all care and education professionals working with children from B–8.
Government agencies and nongovernmental professional and accreditation organizations at the national, state, and local levels should review their standards and policies for workforce qualification requirements and revise them as needed to ensure they are competency based for all care and education professionals and based on the principles identified in the earlier chapters.
Key Takeaway for Implementation
- Launching a review process guided by the principles of this report would lay the groundwork for greater coherence in the content of and processes for qualification requirements, such as those for credentialing and licensure. This work is already underway through the Power to the Profession, a national collaboration to define the early childhood profession by establishing a unifying framework for career pathways; knowledge and competencies; and qualifications, standards, and compensation.
national, state, and local stakeholders, accrediting bodies, and institutions
of higher education will need to come together to develop a multi-year, phased,
comprehensive, coordinated strategy to move this recommendation forward. Its
implementation should be tailored to local context and reasonable timelines for
changes to occur at the individual, institutional, and policy levels. The
federal government should align its policies, develop incentives, and direct
resources to support this strategy.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- The high level of complex knowledge and competencies indicated by the science of child development provides a strong rationale for establishing an equal footing among those who share similar lead educator roles and responsibilities for children.
- Simply instituting policies requiring a minimum bachelor’s degree is not sufficient. Implementation of this recommendation should be closely connected to those that follow as well as with an early care and education system financing strategy. (Another committee, Financing Early Care and Education with a Highly Qualified Workforce, through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is currently finalizing its report and recommendations, which is expected in early 2018.)
- Changes to degree requirement policies will need to be implemented over time and with careful planning. Concurrent steps will need to be taken to ensure that specialized training related to the foundational knowledge and competencies can be achieved through multiple and diverse pathways to meet the needs of current and prospective early care and education professionals.
- State and national goals and timelines are important, but local context must be considered. Local investment and benchmarks will be critical for ensuring that communities lagging behind are given the support they need.
- The degree requirement must allow for multiple pathways. A degree in a specific major is not what matters; what matters most is that candidates complete a course of study that includes child development, early learning, and instructional strategies. A bachelor’s degree program that is not aligned with the principles of this report will not equip candidates with the knowledge and competencies they need to be successful with young children.
- For a successful transition to new requirements, the supply of quality higher education programs and demand from the workforce to acquire them must move together. Federal and state policies will need to support new financing strategies that support increased compensation and financial assistance for teachers.
Recommendation 3: Strengthen practice-based qualification requirements, including a supervised induction period, for all lead educators working with children from B–8.
While field experiences are required for the majority of prospective public school elementary teachers, field experience for teachers of children in other early childhood settings is gained once on the job. And even though the field experience or student teaching experience is more standard for teachers of older children in public schools, states do not necessarily set standards around classroom setting, length of placement, and requirements of supervising teachers. More strategic thinking is needed around how to connect these placements to what prospective teachers are learning in courses, identify quality placements in a variety of B–8 settings, and ensure that once new teachers are hired there is someone to support and coach them.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- Strategies are needed for ensuring a greater number and diversity of field placements that connect educators with qualified supervisors and mentors and provide opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and competencies needed to be successful with children from B–8.
- This requirement must be differentiated for experienced educators who are currently working in early care and education settings.
“The issue of quality in higher education extends to how well care and education professionals are equipped with the knowledge and competencies needed across professional roles and settings to support continuity in high-quality learning experiences for children from birth through age 8.” (pg. 389)
If there is no common vision or standard approach for how to prepare educators to teach and support our nation’s older children, the lack of standardization is even more present for those who guide our youngest children. Regardless, most educators are not being well prepared to meet the learning and developmental needs of children from B–8. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) will need to make sweeping programmatic and curricular changes that are built upon the latest science on child development and learning in order to equip educators with the knowledge and competencies they need. States and accrediting bodies will need to hold IHEs accountable for doing so.
Recommendation 4: Build an interdisciplinary foundation in higher education for child development.
There are many different roles across various sectors that require foundational knowledge and competencies for working with young children. Regardless where individuals pursue their degrees or training, they should leave equipped with that same foundation. This means IHEs will need to revisit their programs, policies, and infrastructure to ensure the necessary cross-departmental and cross-disciplinary collaboration for this shared and foundational knowledge. Federal and state governments as well as philanthropic, policy, and advocacy organizations should create incentives for IHEs to take an interdisciplinary approach. Accreditation and oversight bodies should use an interdisciplinary approach to review programs that lead to degrees or certificates in fields serving young children.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- Prospective educators should be oriented to the early childhood field through an interdisciplinary introduction that incorporates content and context from multiple fields associated with the science of childhood.
- Students should be provided with cross-disciplinary field experiences so that those pursuing professions in health, mental health, and social work can experience the realities of health and social service needs in child care, kindergarten, and early elementary settings, and educators can experience the settings where children they support are referred for services.
- Administrative and departmental leadership will need to address barriers resulting from the existing silos among programs and disciplines in institutions of higher education.
- Shifting to an interdisciplinary approach will likely require resources and incentives tied to new funding for higher education.
Recommendation 5: Develop and enhance programs in higher education for care and education professionals.
There is a strong need for high-quality degree or certificate programs that provide current and future early care and education professionals with the knowledge and competencies they need to be successful with young children. To meet this need, administrators, leadership, and faculty in institutions of higher education will need to come together to review and revise appropriate program requirements and content. Engaging local early care and education programs will be important for including the perspective of professionals currently practicing and for collaborating on high-quality field placements for students.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- Redesigning higher education programs means improving and aligning content, curriculum, pedagogy, and field experiences with the core knowledge and competencies identified in this report.
- Differentiated pathways are needed for the current and future workforce as well as for those moving into different roles across the field (e.g., early childhood mental health consultant to pre-K teacher).
- Early care and education faculty will need to be developed and expanded. There is a need for faculty who are experts in child development and pedagogy, but also faculty who are experts in preparing and guiding students to practice. IHEs should establish approaches to equally value these faculty.
- It will be important for institutions at all levels to coordinate and collaborate. This can be accomplished through faculty learning communities within and across institutions and through two- and four-year articulation agreements to develop consistent and more seamless pathways for students.
“For many practitioners who do not participate in formal preparation programs, such as those in early childhood settings, these activities during ongoing professional practice often overlap as default preparation for practice.” (pg. 393)
Professional learning during ongoing practice includes workshops and trainings, coaching and mentoring, reflective practice, learning networks, and communities of practices. This kind of learning has many purposes, including supporting and building knowledge and competencies and introducing new skills, concepts, and strategies. Because all professional learning aims to improve or sustain quality practice and improve child outcomes, its effectiveness can therefore be viewed in terms of how well it achieves these two goals.
Recommendation 6: Support the consistent quality and coherence of professional learning supports during ongoing practice for professionals working with children from B–8.
Quality, consistency, and parity are needed across professional learning offerings. State and local governments, along with nonprofit groups, can help improve offerings by developing clearinghouse and quality assurance systems that promote access to strong learning opportunities, coordinate with other relevant state systems, and promote joint participation in learning across settings and roles. Federal and state agencies and philanthropic organizations should provide funding to support this work to better coordinate and identify high quality in professional learning systems.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- While it is important to improve professional learning opportunities across the board for B–8 professionals across all settings, special attention is needed for those who work with infants and toddlers and for practitioners in settings outside of centers and schools, such as family child care.
- Early elementary school teachers have a more supported infrastructure for professional learning, but it is not necessarily focused on providing opportunities to best support the learning of young children; these teachers should have more tailored professional learning activities.
- There are many barriers for educators to access high-quality professional learning, including cost, obligations out of work hours, and geography. Consideration will need to be given to how to address these and ensure that all professionals have easy access to opportunities that hone their competencies.
“Current systems for measuring the performance of educators—even current reforms to those systems—are not sufficient for those who work with children in the early elementary years and younger.” (pg. 533)
New and revised systems evaluating and assessing the effectiveness of educators who work with children from B–8 are needed. Current reforms of these systems focus on student outcomes typically in only one or two areas (often reading and math) instead of capturing the full range of early learning domains. These systems also neglect important competencies such as trauma-informed practice, family engagement, and collaboration and communication with other early care and education professionals.
Recommendation 7: Develop a new paradigm for evaluation and assessment of professional practice for those who work with children from B–8.
Policymakers at all levels along with stakeholders such as educators and administrators should review and improve how educators are evaluated and assessed. Federal and state policymakers and philanthropic organizations should invest in research and development to improve or create new tools for this purpose. These systems should consider multiple sources of evidence, including assessments of children’s progress and measures of knowledge and competencies. They should also account for setting and community factors and be part of a continuous system of support for educators. Evaluation and assessment systems should be able to answer questions such as: How are the children with whom professionals are working developing in each domain? Do professionals demonstrate knowledge and capacity for best practices in working with dual language learners and children with disabilities in order to support their growth across all learning and developmental domains? How skilled are professionals at engaging family members from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds as partners?
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- B–8 educators need to be shown how the information they gather on children’s learning from assessment tools can be used to inform their lesson plans.
- Evaluators and evaluation systems should be able to account for overcrowded classrooms, poorly resourced settings, lack of access to professional learning, quality and quantity of supportive community factors, and quality of home environments.
- In order to appropriately assess teachers, center/program directors, principals, and other administrators need training and support to understand what teachers need to be able to instruct young children in the ways they learn best and to identify when good instruction and learning environments are in place and when they are not.
- Systems should be developed, evaluated, and improved with meaningful involvement of early learning practitioners and experts.
- Educator evaluation and assessment systems will only serve their purpose of improving teacher practice and child outcomes if the information they produce is used to shape local-, district-, and state-level professional learning activities, investments, and policies.
“While the importance of school and program leadership is unequivocal, current policies for training or certifying elementary school principals are not well aligned with the interest of children.” (pg. 539)
Elementary school principals, early care and education center directors or program directors, and other administrators are integral to the quality of children’s early learning experiences. They establish the conditions and culture and provide support for high-quality, developmentally appropriate teaching and learning environments. These leaders, however, often lack the early childhood education knowledge and competencies to do so.
Recommendation 8: Ensure that policies and standards that shape the professional learning of care and education leaders encompass the foundational knowledge and competencies needed to support high-quality practices for child development and early learning.
States and organizations that put forth competencies for early childhood education administrators should review these competencies to ensure they reflect what leaders need to know and be able to do to support B–8 teachers and the children they serve. Accrediting bodies and IHEs should integrate early learning principles and best practices for early childhood education throughout the principal development pipeline.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- Both principals and early childhood education administrators need specific competencies for collaboration and communication because of their important role in bridging systems to support greater continuity in early learning experiences before and after young children enter school systems.
- Rethink requirements including education, credentials, coursework, and professional experience for early childhood education administrators. Build higher education capacity to meet new needs for B–8 leader preparation.
- The foundational knowledge and core competencies elementary school principals need should be better embedded in policies that govern their preparation and ongoing learning.
“A critical factor in providing consistent support for children from birth through age 8 is the ability of care and education professionals to work in synergy with other professionals…” (pg. 542)
Early childhood care and education professionals must be able to and have resources to work with others in related sectors, especially health and social services.
Recommendation 9: Improve consistency and continuity for children from B–8 by strengthening collaboration and communication among professionals and systems within the care and education sector with closely related sectors, especially health and social services.
One particularly important area for collaboration is in infant and child mental health. To improve these linkages, leaders in care and education settings should partner with mental health professionals. Because there is limited availability of mental health consultants, federal agencies and national organizations should prioritize funded, integrated training programs for educators that focus on both early learning and early childhood mental health. And, because of mental health consultants work with young children,the mental health sector should review their standards, practices, and systems for professional learning to incorporate basic knowledge in child development.
“Implementing the committee’s recommendations will produce substantive changes that elevate the perception of the professionals who work with children from birth through age 8 and improve the quality of professional practice, the quality of the practice environment, and the status and well-being of the workforce—and ultimately, outcomes for children.” (pg. 560)
Accomplishing this will require coordination and alignment among funders, oversight agencies, and stakeholders conducting work to support and develop children from B–8. Setting policy alone is not enough; establishing ambitious but reasonable timelines for implementation and allowing for opportunities to revisit policies based on how well they are working or not working is necessary.
Recommendation 10: Support workforce development with coherent funding, oversight, and policies.
To support the transformation of the workforce for children B–8, federal, state, and local governments and nongovernmental resource organizations should review their policies and practices to ensure they are aligned with the unifying foundational principles in this report. This should include revisions of regulations for funding streams to remove barriers to continuity across settings. Existing streams have differing eligibility requirements and quality standards.
Recommendation 11: Collaboratively develop and periodically update coherent guidance across roles and settings for care and education professionals working with children from B–8.
National nongovernmental organizations that offer resources and support for local and state governments or directly to the care and education workforce should collaborate and update foundational guidance related to the care and education workforce serving children from B–8. Governments at all levels, nongovernmental organizations, IHEs, and professional learning providers should use the shared guidance to align and augment their own standards. The goal here is to promote consistency among the various groups with oversight and influence across early care and education. Federal agencies, along with philanthropic organizations, can and should support these collaborative efforts with the goal of getting to a more permanent, recognized organizational infrastructure.
Key Takeaways for Implementation
- The representation in collaborative efforts also should reflect practice communities, the research community, policy research and analysis, policy makers and government leadership, higher education, agencies that oversee licensure and credentialing as well as accreditation, and organizations that provide ongoing professional learning.
- For collaborative efforts to be helpful, it will be necessary to establish some form of infrastructure.
- Collaborative efforts should draw from and build on existing resources rather than create new and duplicative solutions.
Recommendation 12: Support comprehensive state- and local-level efforts to transform the professional workforce for children from B–8.
Governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations should support collective efforts at the state and local levels to transform the workforce for children B–8. These groups should collaborate to provide technical assistance, financial help, and other resources. The report calls on the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to use this approach to jointly fund local or state coalitions to undertake a long-term initiative to review, assess, and improve professional learning and workforce development for the care and education workforce.
Recommendation 13: Build a better knowledge base to inform workforce development and professional learning services and systems.
Many of the recommendations above will require stakeholders and policymakers to understand the current status, characteristics, and needs of the early care and education workforce. Several organizations are currently undertaking projects to make this type of information available and to track results over time. Those results and other types of information about the workforce will also be important for mobilizing resources and gaining public and policymaker support for new workforce improvement initiatives. There is a need for state and local governments to establish data systems for better data collection on the early care and education workforce. National organizations, philanthropic organizations, and federal governmental agencies should provide support for these data systems. Throughout the report, the committee noted several areas where additional knowledge is needed, several of which are laid out in Box 12-6 on pages 554–556. These areas should be included in the funding portfolios of governmental and nongovernmental research funding sources.