By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Is early childhood education a profession? Is it a field? Are early childhood educators custodial caretakers, or are they supporting children’s development of cognitive and social and emotional skills based on significant hard science? Is there a name for the profession we can all agree to? When we define the profession, are we leaving people behind? By defining the profession and pushing for an increase in compensation and wages, are we pricing families out of high-quality early learning or demanding greater public investments? What thresholds of licensing, certification, and education will federal initiatives and state systems agree to? Are institutions of higher education preparing early childhood educators to be effective teachers of young children birth through third grade?
In the March 2015 issue of Young Children I announced the launch of NAEYC ’s Strategic Direction and outlined the first of five strategic priorities, High-Quality Early Learning. The second, and equally important, strategic priority is The Profession.
The goal is simple: “The early childhood education profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as vital and performing a critical role in society.“
- Professional preparation and development for birth through age 8 educators is aligned and grounded in NAEYC’s standards and delivered in innovative ways.
- Skills, knowledge, competencies, and qualifications are agreed upon and used to define the early care and education profession.
- Early childhood professionals are diverse, effective educators and leaders working within a compensation and recognition system that supports their excellence.
- Professional development and preparation systems support seamless progression for early care and education professionals to advance their education, professional learning, and careers.
Despite the goal’s simplicity and straightforwardness, I believe it will take every bit of courage, open-mindedness, innovation, and political savvy we NAEYC members can muster to attain it. The conflicts run deep—agreeing on the threshold of basic skills and competencies required to be an early childhood educator, determining whether certain roles constitute a professional position, and deciding what certifications are necessary and whether they should vary by state. Finally, we have made little or no progress in ensuring that early childhood educators work in a system of compensation and recognition that supports their excellence.
“So,” skeptics may say, “why now? It’s not as if this goal hasn’t been proposed before.”
They are right. Our field has been addressing this goal for decades. In fact, within NAEYC there are reams of documentation and a rich history of discussions and similar initiatives. At the risk of seeming to see the world through rose-colored glasses, I argue that today is different. Today, as never before,
- Social scientists in early learning and developmentally appropriate practice are strongly supported by hard science—neuroscience—confirming that learning begins at birth
- Economists state clearly that there is a strong return on investment to society, families, and individuals when young children have access to high-quality early learning
- Significant federal, state, and local public funds have been invested in a system of early care and education
- Stakes are high for all young children—regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status—to start kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life
- Seven in 10 Americans say they favor using federal money to make sure high-quality education programs are available for every child in the United States
This all bodes well for recognition of the important role of early childhood educators.
In the new Strategic Direction NAEYC confirms its eagerness to be an innovative, risk-taking organization. Engaging with politicians, influencing policy, building consensus, developing resources—all will be essential in reaching this goal for the profession. Many of NAEYC’s partnering organizations also recognize that our collective time has come. And while we set out on this journey toward professional excellence and recognition, here is a glimpse of several new resources that will guide us in the next months:
- NAEYC’s National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, June 7–10, in New Orleans. The theme is The Early Childhood Profession We All Want: What Will It Take to Get Us There? You will want to be there to join in this conversation!
- Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, by Stacie Goffin. NAEYC is copublishing this title with Redleaf Press, for release in June (a comprehensive member benefit). Known for her clarity, purpose, and tireless advocacy, Stacie offers our field a roadmap for initiating a conversation from the inside out. Her premise is that we have to own this agenda rather than having a definition created for us.
- #InvestInUs. NAEYC will be using #InvestInUs during a six-week campaign to highlight teacher testimonials.
- NAEYC’s national marketing and behavioral research, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation. What motivates early childhood educators to make decisions about their careers? What messages about early childhood educators influence the perceptions and decisions of likely voters? And who are the messengers? Look for the release of these research results in fall 2015.
- Fall 2015 projects funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. A series of new resources are slated for release in the fall, including a national higher education directory, an online community for higher education faculty, and a pilot designed to test the expansion of NAEYC’s Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation (ECADA).
- The collection of articles in this issue of Young Children, which focuses on the theme Leadership: Supporting a New Generation of Early Childhood Professionals. This cluster offers diverse views of what it means to be a leader at this time of national emphasis on early childhood education, and provides specific strategies that emerging leaders can use to hone their leadership skills.
How the questions that open this column are answered is up to us—in our action (or inaction) to professionalize the field of early care and education. The resources listed above are just the beginning. I assure you NAEYC is totally committed. But it will take the entire field and our key stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to move this agenda forward. So I leave you with a request: If this is a top priority for you, if you have waited way too long and have not seen nearly enough progress, what are you going to do in your role—tomorrow, next week, this year—to move the needle on behalf of yourself and your colleagues? Are you ready to join this movement?
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Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.