Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What It Means to be an ECE Professional: More Thoughts

As I have been thinking about the issues brought up by the educational qualifications within ECE, I have wondered what how these educational requirements will impact our field.  I have long been a proponent of educational requirements within the field, and if I had my way anyone who is in charge of a classroom would have an AA, and all directors would have a BA.  And I understand the financial impacts of doing this, but see the impact of generations of children being inadequately prepared for life as far worse.  My concerns about the current manner in which educational requirements are being implemented all relate to the practical impact I see them having.

First of all, I am concerned that by putting the emphasis on very specific criteria these regulations promote a  pedagogical bent that is not all inclusive.  Children are not robots who need  the same pedagogy in which to thrive, but rather they need a system that supports their individual differences, as well as honors the values and culture that they are being raised within.  The system by which we educate our ECE providers is the foundation of how the field honors individual differences, as well as respects the cultural varieties that our field claims to hold dear.  I saw this first hand when I was in California where teachers are required to have 12 credits of college.  While that sounds great on the surface, the ECE college curriculum is dictated by the state so that at many of the ECE programs I visited the same songs were sung, the same art projects were done, and the same lessons were taught.  How does this fit with what we know is the benefit of a reflective, responsive curriculum that honors all children and their families?  Having a vibrant, diverse choice of pedagogues for families to chose from honors both family and individual differences.

Other examples of this include how we teach when a child must be off the pacifier, bottle, sleeping through the night, feeding themselves, and stop nursing.  I often hear people criticize a family whose child who is not self-feeding by a certain age, and yet we know that children who grow up in cultures that put a value on interdependence lead happy, productive lives, and are not crippled psychologically.  The real question is who gets to decide what is best for the child- the field of ECE, or the family and culture within which that child is raised?  If we truly valued diversity we would teach child development from a multicultural perspective rather than on white, middle-class values which is were the vast majority of research we use to justify our practices comes from.

My second concern is that the current educational requirements will lead to the field becoming a vocation rather than a profession as I wrote in a previous blog.  Why would someone with 20 years of experience, a BA or higher, and currently director qualified want to take classes at the community college to earn the same money? If they already have an education degree they can simply move to a job in an elementary school and make more money.  While the the problem of poor pay in ECE will not be solved immediately by more focus on college degrees, it will in the long run create a field that is viewed as a profession rather than a vocation, and that will lead to better pay.

And, of course, my goal and vision for ECE is that of a well-paid, honored profession that meets the needs of individual families and children by offering them a large plate full of choices from which they can choose the one that fits them.  So I purpose that instead of putting the emphasis on specific classes, we as a field focus instead on college degrees that are either specifically in ECE or as a certificate program once a degree has been received.  ECE is a field that requires generalized knowledge, a love of learning, and a deep passion for those we serve which is why, I believe, studies show that the better educated the provider the better the quality of care, even when that education is not in the field of ECE.  Once someone has a degree or if they are getting a degree in ECE (and let's start with requiring an AA), then the college  programs need to promote not just the prevailing pedagogy of the day, but include an in-depth study of all the different pedagogues; a multicultural understanding of child development from birth to adulthood (since we need to know where they come from and where they are going); an understanding of psychology, sociology, and the impact of culture; the different theories of business, including organizational culture, leadership and communication styles, how to develop a strategic plan and vision statement, budgeting, as well as other business practices; theories of how children learn; as complete an understanding of how the brain develops and functions as current science allows; a cross-cultural understanding of nutrition and how it impacts development; an understanding of all current local, state, and federal regulations governing our field; an understanding of family and community dynamics, including a study of impact of different economic situations; an understanding of the different methods of curriculum development; and require that at least one course is taken in each of the general areas (such as history, science, math, etc) that ECE providers need to know in order to respond to the wonderful questions children pose.  And let's make the focus on all of these courses not that the students can regurgitate the knowledge back to us, but rather than they can apply, reflect on, and analyze what they are taught.  After all, I have met very few children who fit the textbooks and often had to adapt that knowledge in order to meet the needs of the child effectively.

So, I have given you my vision and proposal for our field, but I urge you to comment about what yours is.  I, also, urge (nay, BEG) you to let the decision and policy makers who are deciding the course of our field know exactly what you think about these issues, and I beg you to do so whether or not you agree with me.  Let's start making our voices heard.  I would love to hear what you think so you can make me think a little harder and clearer about these issues.

With the greatest respect,


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Times They Are A Changing

It has been a long-time since I last wrote in this blog and a lot is happening in Early Childhood Education in Colorado.  There is work being done at the state level to create a new Quality Rating Improvement System, new licensing standards for center-based Early Learning programs, and the state is going to submit for one of the Challenge Grants that the Obama administration has authorized.  It is an exciting time to be in ECE, and a scary time. Programs are unsure of what all of these changes will mean for them, and often wonder if their voice will even be heard.  The proposed changes to licensing are one such change that is creating both excitement and fear, and is garnering national attention from news outlets such as ABC, Fox, and the Washington Times. 

Some news outlets are reporting this as child care providers complaining about the cost of having to buy crayons and dolls, and while that is a reason for some I am sure, it is not the most common reason that many, both inside and outside, of the Early Learning field are wary of the proposed changes.  Crayons and dolls are cheap, and most Early Learning programs, in general, are in favor of regulations governing their operations in order to create a level playing field and to protect the health and safety of all children. What is concerning about the proposed rules and regulations is the micromanaging of every detail in the operations of Early Learning programs, and the impact this will have on program's ability to meet the needs and values of the families and children they serve.  These regulations include having 3 races of dolls, 10 of the same type of art supply, and 6 blocks, but quality is not having crayons, 3 races of dolls, or 6 blocks in the classroom. The outcomes for children in Waldorf and Montessori programs demonstrate that blocks and pictures on the wall are not the key to quality.
Quality should not be something that parents need to shop around for- it should be a foregone conclusion, but the key to quality comes from responsive, individualized care that reflects the values, desires, and needs of the child and family.  Since no single program can be all things to all families, parents (regardless of income) should have access to a variety of programs so they can find one that is a good fit for them and their child to support  positive relationships between the providers, parents, and children.  These relationships make all the difference in outcomes, and we will only get consistency with positive outcomes for children when there is a well-paid, well-educated, stable work force caring for young children. Detailed regulations for stuff cannot and will not create positive relationships between Early Learning professionals, children, and families.

Programs will take the detailed regulations and they will throw those materials into the classroom, but in many cases, they will not know what to do with them.  Anyone who has worked directly with programs knows of this phenomenon first hand.  Yes, the programs meet the material requirements for the Environment Rating Scales, but they do not know how to use the materials or why they were there.  The materials are there because the teacher had been told to put them there, and consequently the children gain little from their presence.

What we need to create instead are Early Learning programs that offer intentional, reflective care for children, and honor the unique circumstances, culture, and family that each child is born into.  Not cookie-cutter programs that make us all feel good because the classrooms look like a catalog, but are devoid of anything more substantive than that.  A one-size fits all approach is the type of thinking that has lead to the proliferation of charter schools and calls for voucher programs in the K-12 system, and it will ultimately have the same effect for Early Learning.