As policymakers, you can play more of a role than you might think in making sure that educators have the knowledge and skills they need to teach young children. It starts by recognizing that to foster high-quality learning, B–8 educators will need a deeper knowledge of subject-matter content, the developmental progress of how children learn, and the instructional strategies that best promote learning.
The Transforming the Workforce report summarizes insights from multiple new studies on the effectiveness of various practices with young children that lead to development of social and emotional skills, language and literacyskills, early mathand early science skills, and the use of technology, as well as how to tailor methods to support dual language learners and other diverse populations of young children. Yet many early educators enter the field ill-equipped to teach certain subjects, such as math, or support specific populations. This is in part because preparation programs are usually designed in response to state competencies, qualifications, and licensure requirements, which may not align with the latest research.
Transforming the Workforce includes a fulllist of the competencies that B–8 educators need on pages 328–329. However, there is no current consensus on what professionals need to know and be able to do. National statements and state expectations for B–8 educators overlap, but also vary in significant ways. While some aspects of practice need to be tailored to specific professional roles, specialization should be developed in the context of a shared foundation in child development and early learning. States and other entities responsible for competencies and standards should revise them to align with the latest research on child development and early learning. The report recommends that states expand their existing core competency statements on areas such as the science of child development, the use of assessment, and work with dual language learners.
On pages 344–345, the report lays out specialized knowledge and competencies for leaders in the field. Program leaders are important in ensuring the quality of early learning experiences, yet their training often does not prepare them to be both administrative and instructional leaders. There is a pronounced divide in expectations for leaders in elementary school settings and those in early childhood learning settings outside of the public schools. Existing state and federal policies, such as minimal qualifications for center directors and accountability systems focused on the later grades for elementary school principals, often fail to motivate or support leaders in acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to lead early childhood educators and their students.
In addition to strong educator preparation programs and professional learning opportunities, which we expand on below, you should help ensure that educators have access to research-based curricula and other relevant materials instrumental in supporting their practice. States or districts can provide guidance around curricula selection and use.
Lastly, the report points out that B–8 educators and administrators need to learn how to foster collaboration with and to coordinate practices across early care and education settings and between the care and education sector and related sectors, especially health, mental health, and social services.
- Are there particular subject areas that are weak among educators in your state or locality that need to be addressed? For example, what is the state of early math or science instruction? Are educators being trained in how to build language and literacy skills? Are there best practices for the use of technology with young children that need to be integrated into early learning guidelines and teacher training?
- Are all B–8 educators in your state or locality provided opportunities to learn more about child mental health and what services may be offered to the children and families in their care?
- Does the state have one foundational set of competencies that are expected for all educators B–8?
- Do documents exist that outline competencies for those working with young children in various capacities?
- When were these competency expectations last revised and how are they used?
- Are current state competency expectations aligned with those in the report?
This synopsis was drawn from our summaries ofchapter 6andchapter 7ofTransforming the Workforce; we encourage you to go to those summaries for key takeaways, examples, graphics, important quotations from the National Academies’ volume, and more.