Fulfilling the Promise of Early Childhood Education: Advancing Early Childhood Education As a Professional Field of Practice


By Stacie G. Goffin, Rhian Evans Allvin, Deb Flis, and Albert Wat

Early childhood education (ECE) is in the spotlight as never before. Being in the limelight, however, has highlighted the field’s fragmentation and the variability in the quality of children’s formal early learning experiences. This reality is unlikely to change, though, unless the ECE field comes to terms with its lack of organization as a unified field of practice with defined accountabilities for a competent and responsible workforce.

A budding movement is emerging in response to this crisis of fragmentation—a drive to organize ECE as a professional field of practice unified by a common overarching purpose, defined body of knowledge and practice, shared professional identity, and internal and external accountability. This movement was apparent at a plenary session of the 2015 QRIS National Learning Network’s national meeting, which explored questions critical to advancing ECE as a professional field of practice.

Stacie G. Goffin, Principal of the Goffin Strategy Group, organized the plenary session and provided its introduction. Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director of the National Association for the Education for Young Children, and Deb Flis, Program Quality and Accreditation Specialist, Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, were panelists, and Albert Wat, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Division, National Governors Association, was a respondent. Panelists were encouraged to voice their differing viewpoints, and we share some of those views below. We hope you’ll join us in thinking about an alternative future for ECE.

Acknowledging ECE as a Professional Field: What Needs to Happen?

Becoming a recognized profession will involve deep systems change. Because of the nature of ECE’s work, few would question that it ought to be a profession. Yet, as John Goodlad reminds us, “A vocation (occupation) is not a profession just because those in it choose to call it one. It must be recognized as such.”

  • To qualify as a recognized profession, ECE has to include attributes that define professional occupations—criteria such as a prescribed scope of work as a field of practice and formal preparation as a prerequisite to being licensed to practice.
  • ECE needs to move beyond its fragmented state and its history of willingly accepting people into the “profession” with varying education levels, credentials, and competencies, and restructure itself as cohesive, interlocking systems of preparation, practice, and accountability bound by a unifying purpose.
  • We should consider tools available to us, such as QRIS. Describing QRIS as an organizing framework, Rhian identified it as a vehicle for moving quality to scale in a consistent and rational way. Deb, however, cautioned against considering QRIS as a singular approach and doubted its ability to remedy all of our field’s challenges. Trying to be an all-inclusive framework, with multiple sets of differing standards across the country, she suggested, has had the unintended consequence of undermining the work of unifying ECE as a professional field of practice.
  • Given the transformative nature of what lies ahead, deep and broad conversations are needed, Deb maintained—conversations that are inclusive of the field’s diverse roles, settings, and aspirations.

Exploring Challenging Questions

We wanted to move beyond attempts to solve existing problems, and focus instead on creating the future we want for ECE as a professional field of practice. Toward that end, some of the questions explored during the plenary follow, along with answers provided by panelists.

  1. Should the ECE profession, like the nursing and medical professions, include specialty practices? Could this structure unite the field around a unifying knowledge base and practice expectations while also acknowledging that different roles may necessitate additional specialized expertise? If so, would one option be practice specialties based on practitioner competencies required by early learning environments with differing purposes?

Rhian contended that we know too much about the science of early learning and the impact of competent early childhood educators on children’s developmental trajectories to parcel professional competencies by workplace. For too long, she continued, we’ve derailed conversations by focusing on early learning settings rather than on the competencies required by the educator’s role. Landing solidly on the side of a shared, core knowledge base in conjunction with specializations, Deb argued that expecting all educators to possess the field’s identified core knowledge, skills, and dispositions is not only an ethical responsibility but also essential in dismantling perceptions that anyone can function as an early educator.

  1. How should we address existing teaching staff unable to meet required preparation standards?

Deb and Rhian emphasized role-based specializations and linking these with specified competencies. Creating consistent competency expectations across states also was considered essential, as was the availability of different pathways toward fulfilling the profession’s requirements. Yet Deb also cautioned that this approach should not be misinterpreted as suggesting that ECE is a suitable career choice for everyone.

  1. Albert challenged us by asking, Why do we have the policies we have for preparing and supporting ECE teachers? If we were to develop the ECE profession from scratch, would we have what we have today?

In response to his first question, Albert underscored that ECE policies rarely are rational or based on what children and adults need; instead, they typically reflect what the field thinks is affordable—a questionable way to develop policies for a workforce critical to children’s near- and long-term success. Thus, a resounding no was the response to his second question, accompanied by an assertion that the field needs to dismiss the notion that diversity and high standards represent competing values and put a stake in the ground about who gets to “function as an early educator.”

Moving Forward

Our attention focuses primarily on uplifting the existing workforce, according to Albert. Developing an alternative future for ECE requires also devoting our considerable energies to developing a profession that will be attractive to those we want to be educating and caring for young children.

After decades of attempts by policy makers and civic and business leaders, the time has come to restructure ECE as a field of practice from the inside out. As stressed by Rhian, “early childhood educators need to lead this effort. They need to be the drivers of ECE’s destiny.”

Do you agree? Please join this conversation by sharing your comments below or by participating with others at ECE Pioneers For A New Era, an informal online community where we share our experiences discussing these issues.

References and Resources

“Beyond the Status Quo: Rethinking Professional Development for Early Childhood Teachers,” by P.J. Winton, P. Snyder, & S.G. Goffin. Chap. 4 in Handbook of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 2016. http://www.tandf.net/books/details/9781315818245/

Early Childhood Education for a New Era: Leading for Our Profession, by S.G. Goffin, 2013. http://store.tcpress.com/0807754609.shtml

“The Occupation of Teaching in Schools.” Chap. 1 (p. 29) in The Moral Dimension of Teaching, 1990. http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1555426379.html

Professionalizing Early Childhood Education as a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, by S.G. Goffin, 2015. https://www.naeyc.org/store/Professionalizing-Early-Childhood-Education-as-a-Field-of-Practice

Are You Prepared? Getting Ready for Emergency Preparedness Month

It’s no coincidence that we’re headed into hurricane season just as Emergency Preparedness Month is beginning. Hurricane Katrina, now ten years ago, has shown us where we’re lacking in disaster and emergency preparedness as a country, and where we need to step up as organizations and individuals.

In order to help families better prepare for the unexpected, organizations like FEMA.gov, Save the Children, and the American Red Cross have created resources to help child care providers and families organize processes in case of an emergency.

Hurricane Katrina led to 5,000 reports of missing children. A decade later, do the children in your care know who to contact in case of an emergency, when cellphones may be unreliable? Save the Children has a new tool to help create emergency contact cards that can serve as a lifeline for families, so that they can be reunified quickly after a disaster. Make your cards here: www.savethechildren.org/Connect


What Happens With Child Care When Children Go Back to School?

bus-878697_1280School buses are back on the roads again for most of the country, which means day time child care may not be an issue for many school-aged children right now. But what happens to children whose parents work long or irregular hours? Where do they go for care after school?

For many families in the U.S., after-school and transitional care are an important part of the child care equation, and something the media often overlooks when reporting about families and their child care needs.

According to a report from the Afterschool Alliance (PDF), 10.2 million children participate in an after school program – this leaves 11.3 million children on their own in the hours after school, and another 19.4 million children that would participate in an after school program if one was available to them.

The importance of these after school programs, including 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) which serve children living in high-poverty areas and attending low-performing schools, cannot be overstated.

While parents across the country continue to work long or nontraditional hours, after school programs are keeping their children safe, helping to improve academic performance and behavior, and supporting working families.

But millions of kids are still being left out: For each student enrolled in a program, two students who want to participate won’t be able to go back to after school this fall due to funding shortfalls in their state.

Learn more about the quality and importance of after school care from AMERICA AFTER 3PM in their latest survey on trends in after school program participation (PDF). And as we send our children back to school, let’s keep in mind the ones who need care after school hours as well.

Take a minute to support after school programs by contacting Congress and asking your elected officials to expand funding for after school and summer learning opportunities in ESEA using the Afterschool Alliance’s online action center!

Kristy Whitley and the Mount Moriah Child Development Center – July 2015 Provider of the Month

Congratulations to Kristy Whitley and the deserving staff at Mount Moriah Child Development Center in North Carolina – July 2015 Provider of the Month!

We’d all love to have a child care provider who welcomes our child into their care every day with a smile, and spends quality time with our child when we’re not able to be there. For Fleece Pierce, her four month old sons’ provider does just that. According to Pierce’s nomination for Kristy Whitley and the Mount Moriah Child Development Center, her son is in more than capable hands:

As a working mom I was hesitant of leaving my baby in daycare, thinking he was not going to receive the attention, interaction, or love needed that I could provide… I am beyond happy I have found the quality service at Mt. Moriah – our baby boy comes home smiling, giggling, rested and happy each day… when you see happy children each time you know you have chosen a great facility.

Whitley and her staff at the Mount Moriah Child Development Center go above and beyond every day with the children in their care – they set the bar for all other providers with their open door policy for families to come and interact with their children throughout the day, multicultural activities as part of their weekly lesson plans, and developmentally appropriate toys, materials, and activities.

Mentored by Bonnie Long, current supervisor for Cabarrus County Schools (North Carolina), Whitley said, “God placed it in my heart to become a child provider… I went to school and received my Early Childhood Education degree. We opened our facility with only one child. Since then God has blessed us to have 40 children.”

We’re grateful to exemplary providers like Whitley and her staff – they’re adding significant value to the development and overall health and well-being of the children in their care.

Nominate a Provider

Know an outstanding provider or early childhood educator who is deserving of the Provider of the Month award? Visit www.providerappreciationday.org for details on how to nominate them, and help Child Care Aware® of America and partner organizations honor those providers that go above and beyond every day!



Read Where You Are!

academy-2816Child Care Aware® of America (CCAoA) is happy to join in the effort to prevent the “summer slide” by signing on to the Read Where You Are campaign put together by the Department of Education!

Wednesday, July 29 is the Read Where You Are day of action – join us in taking time out to read to a child, and then share your photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #ReadWhereYouAre.

The Read Where You Are campaign is a reminder that reading can happen anywhere – on a train, on a bus, in a park or library, or even at home or in a child care setting. Why not use the last few weeks of childrens-books-570121_1280summer vacation to help all young people – even the littlest ones – keep their minds sharp and get ready to go back to school in the fall.

Ready to get started? You can find a great list of books for summer reading here: http://www.read.gov/booklists/

So dig in, and start reading where YOU are!

Talk, Read, Sing – Start Early With Children to Fight the Word Gap

“We know that right now during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. By giving more of our kids access to high-quality pre-school and other early learning programs, and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed, we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of, and a life that will make us all better off.”
– President Barack Obama

TalkingIsTeachingResearch has proven time and again that talking to children, especially when they’re still too young to speak, gives them a leg up when they reach school age and beyond.

Talking to children and encouraging them to engage in discussion using the words they do know will help them grow their vocabulary and set the pace for their educational development moving forward.

Health and Human Services, Department of Education, and Too Small to Fail have just launched a new toolkit for families, providers and health professionals to help them engage children in speech: Talking is Teaching: TALK, READ, SING TOGETHER EVERY DAY!

The materials come in English and Spanish and were completed in partnership with Sesame Workshop and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and they include a roadmap of speech milestones for children birth to age five so parents and caregivers know what to look for in speech development.

Check out their milestone road map online, and then download these amazing tools to start engaging the children in your care in language growth – then share these resources with the parents and providers in your community!

_SB15778CCAofA Daycare 11.08.14

June 2015 Footnotes

Footnotes-Blog-Header_FINAL-1200x400I love summer! Warm weather, even when it’s humid and sticky, beats the winter layering and trying to keep track of the extra accessories like mittens, scarves, coats, and boots. The “lazy days” of summer are here – and yet I still got that phone call. I missed an appointment today, scheduled a long time ago for my daughter – ugh! I guess I was a bit too relaxed on the summer no-school routine!

Of course we’re all likely too aware that there is really no slow down for summer. And the same is true for CCAoA. Our staff team is busier than ever and committed to a summer of activity in support of the important changes happening in child care.

We are introducing a new feature on the ED Blog called Footnotes – a monthly update highlighting a few of the activities of our dedicated staff.

Around the Country

We are thrilled to have been chosen as a recipient for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant where we will have the opportunity to provide technical assistance and leadership on health, nutrition, and obesity prevention in child care settings around the country. As required by the new CCDBG law, implementing the new requirements into a state plan has an upcoming March 1, 2016 deadline. We look forward to the partnerships we will forge and the critical data collected to address this critical issue!

Our Regional Military Child Care Liaison, Karen Lange represented us well as Governor McAuliffe of Virginia signed the Child Care Safety Bill on May 26, 2015 that requires fingerprint background checks for licensed child care providers. This legislation was the result of the contributions of many stakeholders, including Child Care Aware® of Virginia, our amazing parent advocates, and Child Care Aware® of America.

Online and On-Air connections

On June 16, Child Care Aware® of America and Save the Children hosted a webinar detailing the new disaster preparedness and response requirements under the new CCDBG law. The webinar moderators included Jay Nichols, Director of Federal Policy and Governmental Affairs with Child Care Aware® of America, and Rich Bland, National Director, Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children, U.S. Programs.

Over 200 people participated! You can watch the recorded webinar here.

On July 25, Child Care Aware® of America jointly led an #EarlyEdChat on Twitter with MomsRising, MamasConPoder, and Easter Seals to discuss children with special needs in child care. We shared a variety of early care options for parents and provided detailed answers to questions regarding quality care and resources for children with special needs in child care. According to Twitter metrics tool TweetReach Pro, this chat reached 198,035 twitter accounts for 5,238,102 potential readers! You can find this chat and other previous early ed chats by searching Twitter for the hashtag #EarlyEdChat.

CCA-CCDBG-logo_WEBsmallCCDBG Implementation Station

The Child Care Aware® of America policy team recently launched a CCDBG Implementation Station on our new website. CCAoA members will have the opportunity to engage with policy staff and subject matter experts for weekly office hour timeslots with thematic approaches dealing with the 2014 CCDBG law. Visit the CCDBG Implementation Station at usa.childcareaware.org/ccdbg.

Currently, visitors and members can stop by the implementation station and download one-pagers, webinars, and meet the policy team.

Member Connections

On June 16 I presented on the implications of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization of 2014 Act (CCDBG) on the Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures June conference call. The presentation was centered around health, nutrition, and obesity prevention as outlined in the new CCDBG law, and its impact on the child care industry. Child Care Aware® of Kansas was spotlighted for their work through the Healthy Kansas Kids Project along with Illinois (INCCRRA) for their Healthy Child Care Initiative (PDF).

Are you doing something in your state or community that you’d like to share? Please let us know! We’d love to share your innovations and successes!

ICYMI: June In the News

Forbes spoke to CCAoA’s deputy director of policy, Michelle Noth McCready, on the effect of unaffordable child care on families. Find out what Michelle had to say about the child care crisis in Child Care Is Biggest Expense For A Growing Number of Families.

Stay on top of all things CCAoA in real-time by following us on Twitter at @USAchildcare, liking us on Facebook at Facebook.com/USAchildcare, and giving us a double tap or two on Instagram at @USAchildcare.


From our CCAoA family to yours – have a safe and happy Independence Day!