Who is in this workforce?
This workforce consists of professionals who are involved in caring for and teaching children at any point in their development from birth through age 8 (B–8); they are typically described as working in the “early care and education” sector. The sector includes a wide range of settings and programs: home-visiting programs which support first-time parents, child care centers, pre-K programs, afterschool programs, and classrooms in the primary grades of elementary schools. Professionals in this sector are also working in health, medical, and social services agencies, but the Transforming the Workforce report focuses primarily on what it calls “those professionals who are responsible for regular, daily care and education.”
Why does the workforce need to be transformed?
New studies on children’s cognitive and social and emotional growth, including the burgeoning science of brain development, have exposed the importance of children’s earliest years for setting the path for their future. The adults who provide for the care and education of young children bear a great responsibility for the nature and quality of these early years. They need specific knowledge and skills, as well as commensurate financial compensation and supportive workplace conditions, to help young children learn and develop. These professionals are building the foundation for a child’s lifelong progress. And yet, in the United States, the members of this workforce are not currently supported and prepared for this important work. As Transforming the Workforce puts it, “the requirements for their preparation and credentials often depend on the setting where they work rather than on the needs of children.” The report goes on to explain: “those who care for and educate young children currently are not acknowledged as a workforce unified by their common objective and shared contributions to the development and early learning of young children and the common knowledge base and competencies needed to do their jobs well.”
Why does the push to transform the workforce extend across the first eight years of a child’s life?
Not only are these the years often recognized in scientific literature as the period of “early childhood,” they are also years in which children are moving through different learning settings that are disconnected from each other. One of the biggest areas of disconnect is at the transition between pre-K and entrance into elementary school. Creating systems in which professionals share a common language about how to support young children can alleviate the stress on a child’s social and cognitive growth that comes from these transitions.
Why not just focus on the professionals that work with children before kindergarten?
During the period of rapid brain development that children experience from B–8, continuity of experiences can help ensure that each year of early care and education builds on the next. The transition from a pre-K or child care setting to an elementary school can be a particularly challenging time because these systems are often disjointed. Focusing on professionals in both early care and education settings and elementary schools increases the likelihood that children will experience consistent learning environments. While the qualification requirements are often higher for professionals working with children from kindergarten through third grade, they also have room to improve their practice and understanding of early childhood education.
What does it mean to “unify” this workforce?
The professionals serving children from B–8 are not currently viewed as a cohesive workforce. Those working in different settings are held to disparate expectations often based on the type of setting, age of the children they serve, the source of program funding, and the regulations they adhere to. Their qualifications, preparation, professional learning opportunities, and levels of compensation are also highly varied. As a result, the professionals covered in Transforming the Workforce often do not even view themselves “as part of the same professional landscape.”
Unifying the workforce would mean that all professionals caring for and educating children from B–8 have the same foundational knowledge and competencies needed to serve this population, as outlined in the research on early learning and child development.
Help clarify the terminology. What does it mean to be a professional in this workforce? What does it mean to be an educator? What is a lead educator?
To be a professional in this workforce means to be working on behalf of the growth and development of young children according to a set of professional standards. The Transforming the Workforce report uses the term “care and education professionals” and that group includes practitioners in the health and social services sectors, along with educators. Educators in particular are those “professionals with regular (daily or near-daily), direct responsibilities for the care and education of young children.”
The report defines “lead educators” as “those who bear primary responsibility for children and are responsible for planning and implementing activities and instruction and overseeing the work of assistant teachers and paraprofessionals. Roles include lead educators in classroom and center-based settings, center directors/administrators, and owner/operators and lead practitioners in home-based or family childcare settings.”
NOTE: In this guidebook, based on the Transforming the Workforce report, the construction “B–8 educator” or “B–8 professional” denotes an educator or professional who is working anywhere within the sector that serves children from birth through age 8. For those who are only serving children up through age 5, we use the term “B–5.”
Why does the Transforming the Workforce report not include any recommendations about compensation and benefits?
The committee behind Transforming the Workforce was tasked with focusing on how professionals can best serve children during the early years based on the science of child development and early learning. The recommendations are meant to address what is best for young children and the workforce without being constrained by concern for limited resources. The committee was specifically asked not to address funding and financing.
However, as the report states in its section on The Reality of Resources, adequate financial resources are key to seeing the recommendations to fruition. Another committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Financing Early Care and Education with a Highly Qualified Workforce, has been working on that issue and will release a follow-up report to Transforming the Workforce in early 2018. The committee members working on the forthcoming report have expertise in economics, financing, labor markets, and other necessary areas.
What about the parents and family members who are with children every day?
The report acknowledges that parents and family members who care for children every day are usually the most important adults in their lives. Children’s interactions and relationships with their primary caregivers are instrumental to their success. As a growing percentage of families have all available parents working outside the home, most young children now spend a significant portion of their time with caregivers outside of their immediate families. Transforming the Workforce focuses specifically on the professional workforce responsible for caring for and educating young children and does not address parenting interventions or the types of support programs parents need. The 2016 report Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0–8 published by the National Academies focuses on these topics.
Why are bachelor’s degrees recommended for lead educators?
A bachelor’s degree with a teaching credential has long been the requirement for most teachers working in elementary grades. The qualifications for professionals in the birth through age five (B–5) space are less consistent and usually much lower. The report recommends holding all lead educators, regardless of setting or age group, to the same standards: a bachelor’s degree with specialized knowledge and competencies related to early education. The full list of those competencies is on page 497 of the report; they include a knowledge of the developmental science behind multiple domains of learning, an understanding of learning trajectories for different subject areas, an ability to help advance the learning of children with special developmental needs, and more. For background on the research and policy aspirations behind this recommendation, see pages 509–521.
Is transforming the workforce simply about adding new training programs and credentials?
Not at all. It will also require overcoming the challenging conditions that face today’s educators and caregivers (low wages; minimal benefits; stressful interactions, particularly in working with children and families coming from trauma; high turnover rates). And it will entail developing career pathways to enable practitioners of all kinds to see the steps toward their own growth and development. The report envisions a tree-like structure for B–8 careers, with shared knowledge at the base and trunk of the tree and specialized knowledge at the branches.
How long will it take to transform the workforce?
The report acknowledges the complexity and challenges of transforming the disjointed early childhood workforce. "Full implementation of some of these recommendations could take years or even decades," the report states. “At the same time, the need to improve the quality, continuity, and consistency of professional practice for children from birth through age 8 is urgent.”