The preparation of childcare workers and teachers instructing children from birth to age 8 has not kept pace with what those children need, according to a recent report.
The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council report says that more coordination and support are needed to strengthen the “fragmented workforce” that cares for young children during the crucial early years when they are developing at “a rapid pace.”
“Persisting with the status quo for the professionals who do this important, complex work will perpetuate today’s fragmented approach to the care and education of young children, resulting in inadequate learning and development, especially among America’s most vulnerable families and communities,” according to the report, “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation,” released Wednesday.
The study recommends that all lead educators have a bachelor’s degree with specialized knowledge and competencies in early education. It suggests implementing phased, multi-year pathways to help early childhood educators earn their degrees. It also recommends a supervised induction period for these professionals.
“Holding lower educational expectations for early childhood educators than for those working in early elementary grades perpetuates the perception that educating children before kindergarten requires less expertise than educating older students,” the report says. This perception justifies paying these professionals less and providing less funding for the programs and ongoing training of the staff, the report says.
More support for teachers in the early grades is also needed, the report says, because the needs of those instructors can be “overshadowed in broader K-12 professional learning systems that skew toward the education of older children.”
The report calls for an interdisciplinary foundation for students seeking a degree in child development so that all professionals in the field rely on a shared knowledge base and competencies. This would include a “formally defined, accredited course of study in child development, early learning and instruction.”
The report also finds fault with how early education teachers are evaluated. For example, basing an evaluation on a one-day observation of a teacher is not sufficient, the report says. Young children’s performance of a task can vary greatly from day to day or even moment to moment, the report states.
The report acknowledges that reaching the goals could take decades, but calls for a significant investment and a concerted effort to begin providing more training and higher pay to attract and retain well-qualified professionals.