Do We Need Bachelor’s Degrees in ECE?   			Our Response to a Controversial Question

Do We Need Bachelor’s Degrees in ECE? Our Response to a Controversial Question

Author: Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator


WECA is dedicated to enhancing the educational qualifications of our workforce and improving wages and working conditions in our field.  For decades, the dominant thinking has been that as we raise the level of professionalism (i.e. the skill and knowledge base of the workforce), better wages would follow.  As dictated by new research, the job of early care and education has become more complex and the demand for education more insistent.  We have watched educational levels improve, while there has been only incremental change in compensation. Rather than thinking one can solve the other, we need to consider the two as distinct problems that need to be addressed simultaneously.  Today is the time to once again wrestle with this dilemma.  -Peggy Haack, T.E.A.C.H. Outreach Coordinator

Women graduating from college

In 2015 the Institute of Medicine (IOM)1 and National Research Council (NRC), based on the science of early brain development, recommended that all lead educators working with children from birth through age eight have at minimum a bachelor’s degree with specialized early childhood knowledge and competencies.  Just two years later, New America, an organization “committed to renewing American politics, prosperity and purpose in the Digital Age,” in a report entitled Rethinking Credential Requirements in Early Education, suggests that bachelor’s degrees are in fact not the way to go.

Two opposing views coming from two very different perspectives – neuroscience vs. the current labor market.  What is one to think?  From our reading of these reports, it may depend on whose lens you look through.

If we look at this problem through the lens of a child – the way early childhood educators are prone to do – it is obvious that what is happening in these early years is so important that young children deserve nothing less than our best.  A highly skilled professional with a well-rounded education – like that required of all other educators – is fundamental.

If we look at this problem through the lens of a family struggling to pay for high quality child care, we can only see a failing free market system in which the true cost of child care cannot reasonably be assumed by the purchaser.  Until high quality child care is recognized as the public good that  it is, families will seek low-cost alternatives and low wages will continue to subsidize whatever program they are offered.  This is a difficult environment in which to promote higher education.

If we look at this problem through the lens of professionals who are operating programs, we are confronted with the immediacy of the problem.  A growing teacher shortage is the result of demanding more of teaching staff than they have the skills to give, or investing in the high cost of educating their staff and then not being able to provide the financial incentives that encourages them to stay.

students

In our view there has to be some both/and thinking around this dilemma.  We must continue to support a bachelor’s degree pathway in early education because highly qualified teachers are more likely to provide high quality programs for young children.  A bachelor’s degree does more than focus on specific skills needed in the classroom; it creates a learner who is engaged with the world, ready to bring her curiosity and love of learning to the children.  We must also be open to innovative approaches that support on-the-job skill building, because today’s children can’t wait until we land on a solution, and programs need retention strategies right now to continue operating.

The New America report makes some important points, particularly in regards to the difficulties of building public support for early education in our current climate.  The distinctions they point to between public education and early childhood as it relates to collective power to negotiate better working conditions also resonates with us. However, the author does not seem to fully grasp the fundamental differences in the way young children versus older children learn.  These differences impact K-12 teachers’ perceptions of our work and transitions from early care to elementary education.

WECA’s vision is that all children through age eight are engaged in play-based learning, geared to their developmental needs and supported by strong relationships with teachers who reflect the diversity of the children in their care.  In our vision, there are multiple educational pathways for early childhood teachers to take, each of which could lead to a Bachelor’s degree or beyond if one chooses.  It is our mission to address the barriers they may face along their path.

Currently WECA operates a T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Program.  Over nearly 20 years of operation, we have learned that many scholarship recipients are inspired to pursue education even after achieving their original goals.  Many earning a Bachelor’s degrees did not start with that goal in mind.  Imagine the loss if we had taken that option away and had not encouraged them to reach their full potential.  Some of the barriers to education that the Apprenticeship Program described in the New America report – paid release time, personal supports/mentoring, and incremental wage hikes, for example – are also addressed by the scholarship program.  And just as there is an economic burden that T.E.A.C.H. shares with students and their sponsoring child care programs, the Apprenticeship Program carries the same or similar burdens.  Supporting mentors and engaging teachers in a reflective process are critical aspects of any learning opportunity and they do not come without a cost to programs, as the reader may have been led to believe.

T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® WISCONSIN points proudly to our successes in improving wages, reducing turnover, providing educational opportunities to typically under-represented groups, influencing colleges to be more responsive to our non-traditional workforce, and celebrating the graduation of individuals with both Associate and Bachelor’s degrees.  Of course, there is more work that we must do.  What we must not do is accept that today’s story cannot change and that resources don’t exist to ameliorate the problem.  We believe that there is not so much a scarcity of resources as a scarcity of political will to write a new story for young children, their families, and the early childhood educators who care for them.

Footnotes

1. IOM is now referred to as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)

Teacher turnover in child care stresses young children

Recently our organization released a study on the child care workforce in Wisconsin. Funded by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, the University of Wisconsin-Madison – COWS and the UW-Survey Center – conducted the research.

The findings point to growing financial stress on child care teachers, and suggest adverse effects on the young children in their care.  For example, due to poverty-level wages, more than a third of child care teachers leave their jobs every year, disrupting the quality of care children need in their most formative years.

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90865864If our goal is to ensure high quality care for children, this high rate of turnover is unacceptable.  Research confirms that young children require established relationships with trusting adults in order to thrive.  A disproportionate percentage of child care teaching staff leave within the first two years of employment.  Wages make a difference when it comes to turnover; lower paying child care programs have higher turnover of staff.

Existing solutions
For over 15 years, two federally-funded programs administered by WECA have had a positive impact on the wages, education, retention and turnover of early childhood education teachers: 1) the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program and 2) the REWARD Stipend Program.

T.E.A.C.H. is a comprehensive scholarship program available to those already working in the child care field and pays most of the costs of pursuing higher education credits in Early Childhood Education. Scholarship recipients receive a financial bonus from T.E.A.C.H. and a bonus or raise from their employer upon completion of their contract. They are required to then stay in the field a set length of time, thus raising the educational bar and improving teacher retention.  REWARD aims to keep well-educated individuals in their jobs by providing monetary rewards based on one’s education level and career longevity. Notably, the turnover rate of T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD participants is significantly less than the child care workforce as a whole.

Moving forward
While T.E.A.C.H. and REWARD are vital solutions we know they don’t solve the entire problem. The release of the report and our insights and recommendations form the base of outreach WECA is doing statewide to engage multiple stakeholders in finding an enduring solution.

Stay tuned for more on this topic!

Jeanette A. Paulson
Director of Workforce Initiatives
Wisconsin Early Childhood Association

Learning to be a Leader: Reflections from a Preschool Teacher

Learning to be a Leader: Reflections from a Preschool Teacher

By Robin Reisdorf, Preschool Mentor Teacher at Kids’ Safari Learning Center

Fourteen years ago I walked into my first preschool classroom.  Three year olds surrounded me, asking if baby squirrels have teeth, where butterflies go when it rains, and what the pink dots were on my face.  I was sixteen years old; unaware that my after-school job would become my career.  Quickly I grew to believe that early childhood education is the most effective way to change the world, and I wanted to be a part of it!

Robin Reisdorf

“Change must originate from within the early childhood education field, instead of being thrust upon us.” -Robin Reisdorf

I learned at workshops, conferences, college and through experienced teachers.  Slowly I morphed into an experienced teacher.  Training new teachers was added to my work responsibilities.  While I was told that I was a leader, I didn’t feel like a leader.  I became committed to learning how to be an effective leader, which lead me to seek out a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship and the Leadership Credential at UW-Milwaukee.  One of the first things I learned is that being in a leadership role does not automatically make you a leader.  I needed to develop specific skills.

One valuable lesson that resulted in significant professional growth for me related to the theories of emotional intelligence and their practical application. Previously, I considered classroom activities or my classroom environment while remaining personally removed. I have since learned the skill of self-reflection.  While becoming increasingly self-aware, I am simultaneously challenged to practice self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.  Growing my emotional intelligence has increased my ability to manage emotions in a positive way, empathize with others, and defuse conflict.

To conclude the Leadership Credential, all students create final projects that incorporate their learning. Inspired by my struggles to balance mentoring new teachers with my daily teaching responsibilities, I developed a plan for a mentoring and coaching program.  My plan creates opportunities for early childhood educators to become reflective practitioners, who develop intentional teaching practices through professional development while maintaining respect for each teacher’s individuality.  I believe this will nurture a positive school community, enhance teachers’ confidence and performance, and improve the learning environment.

After receiving my credential, I will continue learning and connecting with other professionals in the field. I am eager to share my final project with my administrators and work toward implementing a mentoring and coaching pilot program at Kids’ Safari Learning Center.  We can share our success with other early childhood centers, so that they will also be able to incorporate mentoring and coaching programs to support their staff.  I also envision developing a Mentoring and Coaching Credential.

During class, we watched the video “Extraordinary Visions” by Dewitt Jones.  He talked about moving from imagination to imagin-action.  This credential challenged me to imagine change, be inspired by a vision, and take action. Although my credential is coming to an end, the application of the knowledge and skills is only just beginning.  Change must originate from within the early childhood education field, instead of being thrust upon us.  As a classroom teacher, I will have an active role promoting positive change within our field.