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

President Obama Signs Child Care and Development Block Grant into Law

Just before noon today, President Obama signed into law the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The bill, which provides child care assistance to families and funds quality initiatives for child care, had not previously been reauthorized since 1996.  Today’s signing follows an overwhelming show of bi-partisan support during Monday’s Senate vote on the legislation. This bi-partisan bicameral effort was led by Representatives John Kline (R-MN), George Miller (D-CA), Todd Rokita (R-IN), and David Loebsack (D-IA), and Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Richard Burr (R-NC).

“Every working parent with children, no matter their income level, worries about child care. What’s affordable? What’s accessible? Will my child be safe? Where can I get the best care for my kid? The CCDBG program has given many families over many years peace of mind, but we can and should be doing more to improve child care for children, parents and providers alike,” said Senator Mikulski, one of the leaders and original sponsors of the legislation. “It is long past time to revitalize, refresh and reform this vitally important program.”

As you know, this is huge news for families and a moment we should all celebrate!  Many of you have advocated for a number of years on the reauthorization of CCDBG, and in partnership with Child Care Aware of America, you’ve brought attention to the importance of this legislation to support the safe, healthy development of all children in child care settings.

Today we celebrate the recognition, through legislation, that children deserve safe, healthy, quality settings across the country.  This bill will significantly:

  • Enhance parental choice by providing information about available care options
  • Strengthen safety in child care settings by requiring all providers  to comply with state health, safety, and fire standards and undergo annual inspections
  • Promote high quality child care by reserving funds at the state level to improve the quality of care provided to children, enhancing states’ ability to train providers and develop safer and more effective child care services

And it is all thanks to you. Your support got us here. Your calls, letters and emails to Congress made this happen. Your stories showed policymakers why this bill is so important to America’s working families and to millions of children’s health and safety. Now is the time to celebrate all that has been accomplished in 2014. For those of you who attended our child care Symposium in April, our “something big” is finally here. Congratulations! And thank you to Congress and the President for making children and working families a priority.

Look for more information as we seek to support the implementation. You can send a thank you to President Obama and to Congress for standing up for working families by visiting our action center, or tweet, tag, and share the image below with your members of Congress show your appreciation on social media:

Thank you CCDBG-Reauthorize

Congratulations to Let’s Move! for reaching four years

February marks the fourth anniversary of Let’s Move!, America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. As a Let’s Move! Child Care partner, Child Care Aware® of America joins in celebrating this milestone. We have worked with Let’s Move! Child Care on many projects over the past years.

Here are a few of our favorite moments:

Let’s Move! Child Care Physical Activity for Trainers

Farm to Preschool: Digging in to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

Taking Care of You With MyPlate

Focusing on the Whole Child
We’ll be talking about the health and education of the whole child at our second Health Aware event, as part of the 2014 Symposium. Join us on Friday, April 4 for Health Aware with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Save the Children, Child’s Environmental Health and Let’s Move! Child Care.

Learn more about how Child Care Aware® of America works with Let’s Move! here.

Early childhood education major + college degree = low pay

We ask a lot of our child care and early learning providers.

We expect them to provide children safe learning environments, engage them in thoughtful activities and prepare them for school success. We prefer providers to have coursework, training and experience in early education and development, to know about and master content covering topics from safety to nutrition, physical development to cognitive development and partner with families on the milestones our children should be meeting.

But we don’t want to pay them for their expertise.

An NPR report, citing researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education, found an early childhood education degree among the least-lucrative of all college majors.

Quality child care is already unaffordable for many families, Yet we know those that do this important work are not receiving the wages they deserve.

Our upcoming release, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report, addresses the factors that contribute to the fees families pay, and how those fees translate into what providers earn.

It is time to ask the difficult questions and re-evaluate the current business model for quality child care. Right now, it’s not working.Image