Transforming the Early Childhood Education Workforce

May 24, 2016

The 2015 Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s (IOM & NRC) Transforming the Workforce report highlights the state’s role in creating a pathway for early care and education (ECE) teachers to acquire education and professional development to meet the demands of their important role. Research shows that ECE teachers’ skills and competencies are predictive of child outcomes, and that education with specialization in early childhood development is correlated with positive child outcomes. The IOM & NRC recommend that policymakers craft a coherent blueprint for improving ECE teachers’ education and wages, thereby improving ECE quality.

Northeastern Children's Center-79State policy makers are considering choices in light of their important role in designing and implementing policies that can address the recommendation articulated by the IOM & NRC. Yet, questions exist about what options are available, including what approaches states are currently employing and what the research has found about the efficacy of different policy options.

To address this need, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) recently released a report that reviews published research on ECE teachers’ education and credentials, on the current status of ECE wages, recruitment and retention challenges, and on promising practices. It summarizes trends in state requirements regarding bachelor-degreed ECE teachers and specialized certification, licensure, or endorsements of ECE teachers and concludes with eight recommendations for state ECE policymakers.

  1. Create a coherent set of policies and actions designed to ensure a stable and educated ECE workforce rather than viewing policy options as trade-offs. State policymakers should carefully consider the ramifications of viewing policies in isolation rather than through a coherent policy lens. A policy that focuses simply on increasing the number of degreed teachers that does not take into account the pertinence and quality of the higher education coursework, the compensation of teachers, and the overall quality and conditions within the ECE setting, could lead to public dollars supporting coursework that does not lead to a more knowledgeable, competent and skilled ECE workforce.
  2. Take into account the existing levels of education of early childhood educators working with children of different ages and in different settings. Policies requiring ECE teachers to increase their education should take into account the current status of education across settings, set realistic goals, and fund coursework and supports at an appropriate level.
  3. Ensure funding is available for both coursework and adequate compensation. States should explore all possible funding streams to finance coursework (and background work to create articulation agreements and courses that meet ECE teachers’ needs), as well as compensation for ECE teachers who have upgraded their qualifications.
  4. Craft state policy that enables and supports cost sharing among ECE funding streams and at the same time supports full enrollment. Only a few states are currently supporting shared services agreements, partnership among providers, cost sharing, or other strategies to maximize funding at the provider level. These are important actions to maximize funding at the provider-level. Yet, in isolation, such actions will not provide the funding that is needed to retain an educated ECE workforce and therefore this step should be taken in conjunction with the other recommendations.
  5. Take steps to secure sustainable public funding for ECE teachers. Interviews with national experts and state stakeholders, as well as reviews of existing research, reveal that the state funding formula can be a stable funding source. Some recommended that legislation supporting the use of school funding formula dollars for ECE include language that requires all existing funding sources—including child care subsidies, Head Start funding, and local tax dollars—be used first and ECE dollars be used to augment quality and teacher wages.
  6. Review existing legislation, regulations, administrative rules, and policies to guide the development of new policies. By reviewing promising practices from states that have achieved the goal of increasing the education levels of ECE teachers and retaining educated ECE teachers, state policymakers can learn from one another.
  7. Support greater collaboration among institutions of higher education to make a coherent pathway toward a bachelor’s degree easier for ECE teachers. To ensure that coursework is accessible to existing ECE teachers, it is important that higher education institutions develop articulation agreements and consider developing stackable certificates. State stakeholders who have developed the agreements and certificates report that these efforts pay off when it comes to increasing access to bachelor’s level coursework for ECE teachers.
  8. Consider the overall quality and improved conditions that can attract ECE teachers. To retain educated ECE teachers, it is important that the overall quality of ECE is high, and policymakers should consider regulations regarding ratios, group sizes, and overall working conditions as well as ECE licensing.

Strategies and promising policies adopted by ECE and K–12 policymakers alike point to possible solutions to enhance the recruitment and retention of educated and credentialed ECE teachers. The recently released CEELO report summarizes key strategies employed by selected states and provides policymakers with research links to guide their decision-making process.

–Diane Schilder, Senior Research Scientist, EDC

Slow and (Un)Steady Does Not Win the Race: What Other States Should Learn from New York

May 12, 2016

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously wrote: “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” Typically, this phrase is cited to support government intervention over waiting for the eventually self-correcting private sector. As this year’s State of Preschool marks 14 years of tracking state government support for preschool education, I find myself citing Keynes in exasperation with the slow pace of government intervention. At the current rate, it will be another 50 years before states can reach all low-income children at age four, and it will take 150 years to reach 75 percent of all four-year-olds. I haven’t bothered to count the centuries until they might reach all children at age three. Looking at this year’s numbers it’s hard not to conclude that many states’ efforts are just a fig leaf to hide their unwillingness to invest in truly high-quality early education. For too many of them, two steps forward are often followed by one step back. However, a few states are moving far ahead of the rest demonstrating that high-quality pre-K for all does not have to be a 22nd century goal.

The most recent example is New York, where lawmakers took decisive action to ensure that every child has the opportunity to enroll in a high-quality preschool program. New York has opened new classrooms across the state and dramatically expanded access to full-day services in New York City. New York City’s Pre-K for All now serves 68,647 children, or 70% of the city’s four-year-olds, in full-day prekindergarten, an increase of more than 250% in just two years, while improving program quality. In early education, quality is job number one, and the city has shown a remarkable commitment to use data to continuously improve quality.

It’s time for other states to follow New York’s lead. In 2014-2015, state spending on pre-K programs nationally rose by 10 percent, but New York alone accounted for two-thirds of this increase. Meanwhile, states with the largest populations of young children were falling behind. California, Florida, and Texas are home to nearly 40 percent of all children served by pre-K, but the report finds these three states were also among the lowest in terms of quality standards. Texas and Florida also reduced enrollment and spending, though California showed signs of improvement.

There are pockets of hope throughout the country beyond New York. Six states—Alabama, Alaska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Mississippi, and West Virginia—and one program in Louisiana met all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks for minimum quality standards, up from four states in the previous school year. The push for quality pre-K has been led by a truly bipartisan group of governors, from Alabama to New Mexico, with Republican governors also leading 6 of the 10 top states for enrollment.

Our nation pays a high price for our failure to invest in young children. Most of the achievement gap is set before our children walk through the kindergarten door. A recent report from NIEER and the Center for American Progress estimates that high-quality full-day pre-K for all would significantly reduce the achievement gaps at kindergarten entry. For African American and Latino kindergarteners, access to high-quality pre-K could close the achievement gap in reading entirely and lessen the gap in math by large percentages. Union City, New Jersey has implemented high-quality pre-K for all for over a decade and illustrates the long-term potential: though 90 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, the district scores one-third of a grade level above the national average in reading and math (looking at scores from grades 3 to 8).

Cities and states across the country should take note. In a global economy, the race is not to be won by the slow and unsteady, but by those who move ahead at a New York pace and stay at it year after year.
W. Steven Barnett is a Board of Governors Professor and Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

A Fresh Look at the State of Preschool

May 9, 2016

The National Institute for Early Education Research will release its latest findings on the state of preschool on Thursday, May 12 in New York City. If this sounds like a new venue for the yearbook’s release, it is—and not without reason. Joining me and the research team at the press conference will be Mayor Bill de Blasio and Libby Doggett, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education.

This year’s findings contain some terrific news in states that have maintained their focus on increasing quality and access, but there are troubling findings where states have wavered in their commitment to young children years after the Great Recession ended. The fact that some of these states have the largest populations of minority kids should serve as a wake-up call, not just in those states but also across the nation. I will address this situation at the press conference.

The new edition of the yearbook has expanded in scope. New survey questions on workforce and Dual Language Learner policies provide important data on areas critical to developing quality programs for our ever more diverse cohort of preschool-age kids. As always, our communications team will be reaching out to news organizations and education stakeholders across the country, but we could also use some help from those in the education and policy communities as they communicate with their networks of influence. As the song goes, “Start Spreadin’ the News.”

Steve Barnett, NIEER Director

3,2,1… Action: Defining Quality in the Primary Grades with Video

May 2, 2016

Defining Quality in the Primary Grades

Research and education organizations, state and federal agencies, politicians, and the media communicate prolifically about key elements of high-quality preschool. This information is shared with policy makers, parents, teachers, administrators, and the public. Yet, we don’t highlight often enough the quality that is needed later in the spectrum of early childhood education (first through third grade). What does a high-quality second grade classroom look like? What types of experiences should first grade students have during their time at school? How do third grade students learn best?

At NIEER, in partnership with the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at Rutgers, with funding from the New Jersey Department of Education under the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge Grant, we are addressing these questions for students and educators in the primary grades. It is important that the high quality the field asks for in preschool is carried through to third grade, the upper end of the early childhood continuum.

My colleague, Dr. Sharon Ryan, and I have led the development of the New Jersey First Through Third Grade Implementation Guidelines. The purpose of these guidelines is to outline best practices in the primary years of schooling and to assist educators with fusing practices that are both academically rigorous and developmentally appropriate. This document joins the NJ Implementation Guidelines for Preschool and Kindergarten to provide guidance for all early childhood teachers and leaders throughout the state and beyond.

The First Through Third Grade Implementation Guidelines offer teachers and leaders in the field a go-to resource for developmentally appropriate and academically rigorous teaching practices in the primary grades. The guidelines begin with a presentation of the young child. At these grade levels, with the pressures of accountability, it is easy to forget that the students are still young learners who need to be nurtured in a developmentally appropriate manner and that each child is a unique individual with unique strengths and needs. The guidelines further address how teachers can be academically, culturally, and linguistically responsive by working with families and communities. Next, we present a look into classroom space and time (including environments and schedules), teacher-child interactions, and the promotion of classroom management through developmentally appropriate practice. The Exploring Classroom Content section provides teachers with background about content areas and best practices for Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Technology, and English Language Arts. Teaching/Instructional Strategies offers a look at data-driven instruction, including collecting and using data, scaffolding and differentiation of instruction, and teaching and learning with an integrated approach through units and projects. Finally, Moving Beyond the Classroom provides teachers guidance about their work as professionals, with a focus on teacher evaluation and classroom observation measures.

Although the document provides strong guidance for educators, it is a hefty document that can be overwhelming. As a former reading specialist where my responsibilities included coaching teachers in high-quality literacy instruction, I heard the request “show me” quite often. “Please show me how to do that!” and “show me what it looks like!” Knowing that “telling” is not quite enough; we developed a companion video series for the first through third grade guidelines. These three videos show what six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds should be experiencing in school. They join the High-Quality Kindergarten Today video series NJDOE produced to accompany the kindergarten guidelines.

The first video in the series focuses on setting up the classroom environment to support children’s learning. The second video explores classroom content through effective instructional strategies and emphasizes assessment and differentiated instruction. The third video in the series demonstrates project-based learning, a pedagogical approach to integrating curricula.

State education agencies can use the guidelines and videos as a valuable component of their technical assistance toolbox used to provide support to local education agencies and to begin a dialog about classroom quality in first through third grade. Local school districts can use the guidelines document and videos to look for key policy changes needed to increase quality. For coaches and leaders working directly supporting teachers, these resources provide a model to demonstrate quality in action and can be used to demonstrate effective strategies to implement a developmentally appropriate academically rigorous program in the primary years.

We hope you find these resources valuable and useful as the field moves high quality through early childhood.

Shannon Riley-Ayers, NIEER Associate Research Professor

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