The United States is grappling with three major emergencies that are compounded by systemic racism: COVID-19, the bleak economic outlook, and police violence. The poor outcomes for people of color, particularly African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans (CDC, June 2020, retrieved 6/1/2020), infected with COVID-19 reflect racism against individuals, disinvestment in communities, and discriminatory policies and laws.
Related to COVID-19 are the necessary shut-downs aimed at reducing infection rates, which have in turn, negatively impacted employment. Police violence against people of color, and African Americans in particular, has a history rooted in the creation and preservation of slavery (Time, May 2017, retrieved 7/30/2020). A focus on educational equity, especially as it relates to the early years, is one way to begin a more fair and non-racist path of opportunity for educators, education leaders, and the young children they care for and teach.
Organizations working on behalf of educational equity, especially as it pertains to communities of color, have been working for decades and even centuries. However, now is a particularly opportune moment to move toward tangible and sustainable solutions. Our new report — Ideal Pathways: How Ideal Learning Approaches Prepare and Support Early Childhood Educators (Ideal Pathways) — provides thoughtful insight and recommendations about how formal and informal post-secondary education systems can more equitably support educators, and by extension, young children, families, and their communities. Building on the expertise of our Ideal Learning Roundtable colleagues, Elizabeth Beaven and Brenda Fyfe, Trust for Learning is focused on how we can foster momentum around a stronger movement for equity in early childhood educator pathways — whether supporting parents, home-based providers, or pre-service and in-service educators.
The eleven ideal learning educator pathways reviewed in this report include:
These educator development pathways are situated in various settings: home-based with a focus on parents and family child care providers; pre- and in-service training for teachers in centers, schools, and districts; and certification and degree programs from accredited universities.
These approaches place an emphasis on supporting each child’s individual intellectual, social, physical, and emotional development and they are informed by and aligned with science and best practices. The educator, who may be a parent, caregiver, or teacher, is a nurturing presence and co-constructor of knowledge where meaningful relationships serve as the basis for interactions between and among children and adults. In these programs, the emphasis is placed on ongoing child observation and low-stakes assessment used to inform teaching and learning.
What We Learned: Existing Data, Challenges, Opportunities, and Recommendations
The current report makes a unique contribution to the knowledge of early childhood educator training pathways, particularly in the context of equity. The report provides practical recommendations to the early childhood education field, policymakers, researchers, and funders. We learned a great deal in compiling information about and studying these 11 educator approaches — a few of our high-level takeaways are listed here.
Our findings show that early childhood educators naturally enter these pathways at various points in their careers, which makes clear that multiple entry points to high-quality training are necessary to expand access. We also found interesting similarities between the various approaches. For example, educator presence and self-regulation are key features across the approaches because of how they shape the instructional climate.
Results also show one area that is particularly problematic for missing data: Participant demographics. Generally, we know how many educators pursue a specific approach, but most approaches do not systematically collect data on age, income, race/ethnicity, and language(s) spoken. We recommend collecting these data because they have the potential to allow measurable progress monitoring to ensure the representation of educators from diverse backgrounds who reflect the children and families served. Our study also reveals that, although these are research-informed approaches, few of the pathways examined count toward formal degree requirements or state licensure. This presents an opportunity for states to build workforce capacity. Specifically, we suggest that states recognize and count the extensive coursework and hours of training that individuals complete toward state certification and licensure.
These challenges and others discussed in the full report are met with clear, actionable recommendations and an eye toward continuous quality improvement at multiple levels. With so much seemingly going wrong in our society – from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, to systemic racism and police violence against people of color – this report lays out a way for our society to “get it right” for today’s educators and the children who will be tomorrow’s leaders. The report recommendations are aimed at supporting all teachers, and those who have been historically marginalized, such as educators of color, will benefit the most – and we believe that this is emblematic of what educational equity is all about.
Taniesha A. Woods Myles, is the Equity and Ideal Learning Fellow at Trust for Learning. To hear more about Ideal Learning and the Trust for Learning, watch the on-webinar, What does it take to create “Ideal Learning” for all children today?
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
Every state, every district, every school, every teacher faced decisions that they had never anticipated in the last academic year. As the end of the 2020-2021 school year approaches, it’s time to reflect on those decisions, learn from others, and prepare for the fall ahead.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.