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)

Early Education Op-Ed in the NY Times: “Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?”

In an October 26th New York Times Op-ed titled, “Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?”, Nicholas Kristof shares that early education is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the political spectrum.

Kristof writes that 84% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans support some type of national early education initiative according to recent polling.

Touting evidence from a new study from Stanford University that the achievement gap begins as early as 18 months, Kristof makes the case for a national early education initiative.

Kristof ends the op-ed giving us a choice: Preschools or prisons?

Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

Read the New York Times op-ed “Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?” >>

Poverty as a Childhood Disease: A View from Wisconsin

Recently, Perri Klass, M.D. wrote an article on the New York Times blog titled “Poverty as a Childhood Disease”. Dr. Klass shared that at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, there was a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty as a national problem, rather than wrestling with its consequences case-by-case in the exam room. To further Dr. Klass’s discussion, WECA board member Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD wrote the following blog post.

“Poverty is neurotoxic.”  Yes, those words should make you sit up and take notice.  I’ve been saying them for about a year now.  It’s a conclusion I’ve come to after seeing the dramatic studies which show substantial deficits in learning among children who have experienced adversity early on in their lives — and with few or no strong, supportive relationships to buffer the effects of that adversity.  I am proud to be part of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academic Pediatric Association, who are calling attention to the concept of poverty as a childhood disease.

Dipesh Navsaria, MD

WECA Board Member, Dipesh Navsaria, M.D.explains the importance of early childhood education on brain development.

I’ve seen this as a problem throughout many areas of Wisconsin.  I’ve noticed it in Native American populations when I’ve worked with them.  I saw it in the hospital as a physician-in-training.  And in my clinical practice at Access Community Health Center in South Madison, I evaluate many children for “school issues” or “behavior problems”.  They are rarely straightforward cases. When I “go digging” in their histories, I find that early exposure to adversity has left a legacy we don’t want children to have: lifelong impairment in learning, thinking, and emotional skills.  Even worse, if we examine the data, we find that traditional medical illnesses also may have significant roots in these issues. Continue reading