Unifying and strengthening the early childhood workforce may be the single most important step towards closing the opportunity/achievement gap. The Foundation for Child Development has committed its energies and resources towards professionalization of the early childhood field, improving the quality of professional practice, and enhancing early childhood teacher preparation.
In 2000, the National Research Council’s Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers report and the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) From Neurons to Neighborhood: The Science of Early Childhood Development report gave the early childhood field its scientific foundation and the standards for high-quality teacher preparation. We also support the long-term vision and teacher competencies proposed by the 2015 IOM report, Transforming the Workforce for Children from Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Moving forward, the Foundation has positioned the research base and recommendations from these landmark reports at the center of our 100-plus years of funding research into the care and education that all children need for a strong start in life.
The Foundation’s support of Power to Profession was spurred by the 2015 IOM report and the vision it articulated. We acknowledge both the importance and difficulty of asking the initiative’s Task Force to do what has never been accomplished in the early childhood field: Envision a unified, diverse, well-prepared, appropriately compensated workforce and determine the competencies and qualifications early childhood professionals must have at every level of practice in order to guarantee that all children have equal access to high-quality early care and education. Recognizing that increasing competencies and qualifications among a diverse workforce would require an equitable pathway for professional development, and the compensation that must come with it, the Foundation also funded the 2018 National Academies’ Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education report that outlines a financing framework and funding strategy based on increased competencies while also retaining diversity in our workforce.
Therefore, we view Power to the Profession’s work as framed by these seminal reports, which emphasized what works for all children and developed a vision that demands equal access to high-quality care and education, access that begins each day in the arms of qualified professionals across every community, not just for those who can afford the best for their children.
THE TASK FORCE’S PURPOSE.
The work of the initiative’s Task Force is an opportunity for social and systemic transformation that cannot be squandered. It is within this context that we strongly believe that the draft recommendations in Decision Cycles 3-5 fail to seize the moment to look beyond the systemic and fiscal constraints of the present. Instead, we urge the Task Force to envision what could be and embrace what educators do best by setting higher professional standards that lead all children to better school and life outcomes.
The question today is not whether quality early childhood education works, but rather how we can make it work for all children and for all early childhood educators.
Much has been done over the past decade to convince policymakers and the public of a fundamental truth: High-quality early care and education is the vehicle of social mobility, the accelerator of better education, health, social, and economic outcomes for children and our nation.
Our charge is to close the opportunity gap that too many children and families in our society experience due to lack of access to quality early care and education. The reality is that children in the greatest need deserve early care and education provided by professionals with the highest qualifications — yet they are least likely to get them. A diverse group of competent, qualified, and fairly compensated early childhood professionals, working in every community, is a force that can eliminate the gap and lift an entire generation out of poverty to make sure that each child — regardless of the zip code in which they live — has a clear path to their full potential.
We must see the early childhood workforce as the engine of positive social and economic change that it can be. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo. We cannot be so constrained by the present realities that we cannot envision a new and better reality for children, families, and the profession of early childhood educators.
The time is now. Parents, stretched to the breaking point between their aspirations for their children and what they can afford to provide, demand something better. That demand can be harnessed to drive greater public investment, but only if early childhood educators leverage the trust that parents have in their work and their professional knowledge and skill. We have a golden opportunity to deliver a vision of and transition towards a professional structure that elevates a diverse workforce while providing uniform access to high-quality care and education for all children.
The Task Force’s vision, as currently drafted in Decision Cycles 3-5, will fail to accomplish these big but necessary goals.
We cannot have progress without change. The draft document settles for the low bar of the status quo — which further perpetuates the reality that both the quality of children’s early childhood experiences and the compensation for early childhood professionals are highly dependent on the settings in which they are enrolled or work.
In its current form, the document does not describe a clear strategy to incentivize and facilitate upward mobility across professional roles in the profession. It does not provide specific individual competencies that would describe what early childhood professionals should know and be able to do across professional roles. Nor does the current iteration of the document ensure that all children and families have access to competent professionals across all settings at every stage of early childhood education and care.
DECISION CYCLES 3-5 SET THE BAR TOO LOW…