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

For Your Back to School List: Take Action This August

As August winds down and we get ready for a new school year we all have plenty of tasks to cross off our “Back to School” list – getting school supplies, nailing down school and activity schedules, hurriedly helping our children finish their summer reading, and even sometimes helping our children start their summer reading!

But at Child Care Aware® of America, we’d like to add one more item to your list. And we promise it’ll help with school readiness…for all children.

We know that early childhood education and child care promotes school readiness, which increases the chances of strong academic performances and subsequently higher graduation rates. But investments in early learning opportunities are vital to the growth of our economy and are lagging behind where they need to be to fully fund states so they can comply with new CCDBG requirements.

In addition to fully funding CCDBG, Child Care Aware® of America also encourages you to support the President’s request of $10.1 billion for Head Start. Funding for Head Start will help expand access to critical early education programs for low-income children, as well as expand the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program. Both of these budget items are critical for the future success of our children.

The last item on your “Back to School” list for all children is to contact your member of Congress and ask him or her to prioritize children in the federal budget for next year.

takeactionWe make it easy for you to do with our draft messaging – take action today! And help us spread the word to other advocates using CCAoA’s August Recess Toolkit, which includes:

  • A sample letter to you member of Congress,
  • Sample letter to the editor of your local newspaper,
  • Sample invitation to your member of Congress to visit a local child care facility,
  • Talking points for a meeting with your member of Congress,
  • And pre-written social media posts and graphics.

Send a message to your member of Congress today using our online action center!

Children and Obesity Prevention – What Works

healthy_eating_kidsWe’ve seen recent numbers showing that rates of obesity are continuing to increase among some low-income children ages 2-5 – but there is hope on the horizon.

New results from the first of its kind study show that obesity measures significantly improved among children ages 2-5 who participate in Head Start Center-based nutrition and healthy living programming, such as Thriving Communities, Thriving Children (TC2), when compared to children not in the program.

This is both a welcome relief and an upcoming challenge as government funding for these critical health and nutrition programs come under fire.

Special funding partners like the Kellogg Foundation have been making great strides with these programs in states like Mississippi and Louisiana, which expand previous school-based obesity prevention efforts by focusing on several key factors at Head Start Centers:

  • Addressing foods served by Head Start Centers,
  • Food-based education
  • Daily physical activity, and
  • Health education.

Child Care Aware® of America recently received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to expand technical assistance activities in targeted states along the same lines – focusing on health, nutrition and obesity prevention as part of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

We’re excited to launch this partnership and do the important work of educating CCR&Rs and community partners on health and early care and education.

Let's MoveIn the meantime, here are a couple of our go-to resources for health and nutrition information for kids:

Top photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Flickr

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

Bringing Emotional Development to the Big Screen


There have been a lot of articles floating around online about the exploration of emotional development of children since the release of Inside Out, Disney’s new animated film based on the personification of an eleven year old girl’s emotions.

Some have the perspective of using the film to look into sadness and depression while others talk about the science behind the emotions and how they interact to create reactions and behavior.

One perspective I particularly appreciate is that of Claire Lerner, LCSW, at ZERO TO THREE. She focuses on the complex emotional lives of children as shown in the movie, and shares tools that parents (and child care providers) can use in their everyday lives to help children deal with their feelings and grow into emotionally aware adults.

To quote Lerner:

Young children are deeply feeling beings. Starting in the earliest months of life, well before they can use words to express themselves, babies have the capacity to experience peaks of joy, excitement, and elation. They also feel fear, grief, sadness, hopelessness, and anger—emotions that many adults understandably find it hard to believe that such young children can experience. But just as Riley in the film needs her parents to hear and empathize with her difficult feelings of pain and loss—which helps her move on in positive ways—so do babies and toddlers.

Her post, Inside Out: A Film for Parents of Young Children, Too, is a must-read for all child care providers, early childhood educators, parents and others who interact with or care for babies and young children.

We Raise America


At Child Care Aware® of America we believe information sharing, advancing discussion, and taking action are critical to affecting positive change for our nation’s children and families. We want to spark the conversation about early childhood and the future of our nation, which is what The Raising of America series and associated public engagement campaign are all about.

The documentary series The Raising of America takes us inside the brain and brings to life recent scientific research that reveals how early experiences, beginning in the womb and continuing through early childhood, can alter brain architecture and developmental trajectories.

Through the stories of families, we discover how the lack of paid parental leave and high-quality affordable childcare, stagnant wages and overcrowded housing, depression and social exclusion, and perhaps most of all the time crunch, too often undermine the efforts of parents and child care providers struggling to create the nurturing environments all children need to thrive.

We’re also proud to highlight the work of Renee Boynton-Jarrett, M.D., Sc.D., pediatrician and Child Care Aware® of America board member. As a contributor to the series, Dr. Boynton-Jarrett adds her expertise on the importance of early growth and development as a precursor to future success, and as a member of our board, we’re excited to have her breadth of knowledge

Screenings are happening all over the country – find one near you and join in the discussion, or host one of your own!

As child care providers and advocates we know how important our work is to the growth and development of America’s children. So join in and share your thoughts with us on social media! We’ll be following the hashtag #WeRaiseAmerica on Twitter to see what you’re talking about.

Ask yourself: So how is it that children in the U.S. have worse outcomes on most measures of health, education and well-being than other rich nations? How can we do better?

Watch this short intro to the series and hear from some of the experts, including Boynton-Jarrett, who are advocating for more involvement in children’s health and growth in their earliest years.

The Raising of America Series – TRAILER (11min) from California Newsreel on Vimeo.