By: Katie Charner-Laird
Last school year, I found myself in one too many meetings with discontent parents talking about homework. Some parents felt the homework was not meaningful. Others were upset because they felt there was not enough feedback from teachers. Still, other parents wanted teachers to be individualizing homework more. In each of these meetings, it became uncomfortably clear that I really didn’t know what was happening across the school with regards to homework.
By the end of that year, I had made one firm commitment both to myself and to several parents. We would spend some time as a staff, before the school year started this year, articulating our beliefs and approach to homework, and develop what some might call a homework policy.
Over the summer, I read a number of articles about how we have to get better at homework, the argument being that homework is a problem for children and families because it is tedious and doesn’t ask children to think critically and creatively. While I didn't completely disagree with these articles, I also didn’t find a strong rationale for why we give homework or how much homework we should be giving.
I had heard of Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, but in truth, I was avoiding reading it. As a former teacher, I had always felt that homework was a critical part of children learning organizational skills and responsibility and a way to practice newly developed skills. Moreover, the idea of getting rid of homework seemed a bit too unconventional. But when I finally did pick up The Homework Myth, I couldn’t put it down. One by one, my reasons for considering homework an essential part of the elementary school experience were dismantled.
Time management and organizational skills: Kohn points out that rather than teaching time management to students, homework actually requires parents to do more to organize children's time.
Newly learned skills: Kohn argues that it is rare that all students need the same practice at the end of a lesson. For some, additional practice may be confusing, while for others, it may be unnecessary.
What the research says: Kohn scoured the research to find that there is no evidence that homework in elementary school leads to an increase in student achievement.
At our opening staff meetings last August, I asked teachers to read excerpts from The Homework Myth, and discuss the article with grade level colleagues. Many teachers were as dumbfounded as I was when challenged to think about their long held beliefs about homework. I asked each grade level team to decide on a common homework approach for the coming school year. While I knew where I stood on the homework issue at this point, I felt it was important for teachers to make these decisions themselves after I had provided them with research and the opportunities to discuss it. As I met with each grade level team, I also felt it was my responsibility to ensure that there was some semblance of a trajectory from Kindergarten through fifth grade.
The School’s New Homework Policy:
Last school year for the first time, I knew the homework expectations for each class in the school!
- In Kindergarten, students dictate stories to their families on a regular basis, but with no official due dates. Parents were encouraged to read to their children, but there were no set expectations for how much or how often.
- Starting in first grade, students were expected to read nightly and this include families reading to children.
- Most grade level teams opted out of reading logs or other accountability structures, noting that these often devolved into a meaningless checklists lacking accountability altogether.
- Third graders were asked to write nightly. Students determine the content and form of their writing, which is not graded. Third graders are also expected to practice their math facts based on both grade level expectations and personal levels of mastery
In my experiences as both principal and teacher, parents often voice two significant complaints: homework either took too long, or not long enough; AND parents didn’t understand the homework, so they couldn’t help their child. These issues have been addressed in our new approach to homework. All homework is now open-ended enough to avoid these common complaints. Teachers give parents information about other elements also taught in class so they can be supportive of the related homework. When a teacher asks students to read for 30 minutes, some students may read 10 pages, and others may read 30. Parents can help children find a regular time to do that homework because the time needed is consistent. Moreover, if a parent wants a child to do more homework, it is quite simple to just have them keep reading. There is no ‘wrong way’ to do the homework. And this has led to many families reporting that the level of stress in their household has decreased dramatically this year.
So last year, Cambridgeport became ‘the school that doesn’t give homework' yet I heard repeatedly from students, teachers, and parents about the significant, meaningful work they are doing at home. A fourth grader was begging to take home his writing notebook on the third day of school so he could keep working on the story he had started in class. A class of fifth graders requested additional practice problems to take home with them. A father-daughter pair showed me the model they created of the setting of the book they were reading together. Our school may be giving less homework but we have more students engaged in more meaningful learning activities at home than ever before.
Katie Charner-Laird is the principal of the Cambridgeport School, a PreK-5th grade elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to being a principal, she taught grades 3-6 and was a literacy coach.
By Susan Friedman and Kyle Snow
A recent report, Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that children with better social competence in kindergarten are more likely to become well-adjusted adults who have jobs and contribute positively to society. In this study, social competence was based upon teacher’s ratings of how well children cooperate and resolve conflicts with peers, understand feelings, and are helpful to others. Many news outlets summarized the report including NPR with Nice Kids Finish First: Study Finds Social Skills Can Predict Future Success and Edweek with Social Competence in Kindergartners Linked to Adult Success.
Supporting social and emotional development and academic rigor can coexist
To most early childhood teachers the fact that social and emotional skills in the early years are important and that teachers and families can foster these skills is foundational to how they approach their work. Economists argue that the long-term return on investing in high quality early childhood education may be due to these social and emotional skills (often called soft skills) that are nurtured in early childhood. The importance placed on social and emotional skills comes at a time when kindergarten has become more focused on academic content areas as described in another blog post, Not Yesterday’s Kindergarten.
Many parents and educators point to the Common Core State Standards as the cause of increased academic focus in kindergarten. NAEYC’s resources on the Common Core include a white paper, DAP and the Common Core Standards: Framing the Issues. It is not the case that academic rigor and supporting social and emotional development are in conflict. A forum at the Erikson Institute in 2012 “High Quality Pre-K-3rd in the age of the Common Core” provided several strong arguments against this false dichotomy. There is a growing body of knowledge about how to meet academic standards, including the Common Core, through DAP focused on teachers of children in kindergarten and 1st-3rd grade.
The importance of social and emotional skills alongside the academic content, continue to be hallmarks of early childhood education - sitting at the center of early learning standards, NAEYC’s Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria, and Developmentally Appropriate Practice.
Developmentally appropriate learning experiences support social skills
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) means looking at the whole child. Academic content like literacy, math and science can be embedded into joyful learning experiences appropriate for children’s development. This example (Preschoolers investigate a Taco Truck) shows children learning about nutrition, food, and their community as they develop math, literacy, and social skills. A child reading a book would be learning and practicing literacy related skills and may also be learning content about science, developing attention and focus, and at the same time laughing at a joke. Children can learn academic content and develop skills through hands on play, engaging learning opportunities, and with lots of time to interact and problem solve with friends. Not only do developmentally appropriate experiences offer children opportunities to learn reading, math, science, and more in meaningful ways but they also offer lots of opportunities to build social skills. Indeed, social and emotional skills support learning across domains, but they are also critically important for children’s development on their own.
Resources from NAEYC
NAEYC embeds strategies, and examples to foster children’s social and emotional skills within our content, resources. position statements and early childhood program standards.
Members of NAEYC receive Young Children and Teaching Young Children and every single issue is full of tips, ideas, and research about how to support children’s social and emotional development. NAEYC’s books offer deep information about content areas like math. science and literacy within the context of developing hands on playful learning experiences with plenty of opportunities for social and emotional learning.
We’ve included links to many NAEYC resources that offer learning ideas within the context of children’s social and emotional development. Explore all NAEYC has to offer to learn more.
- Developmentally Appropriate Practice (books, articles, tips for teachers of children birth-8)
- DAP: Focus on Kindergarten
- DAP: Focus on First-Third Grade
- Guidance Matters (a column from Young Children on fostering social and emotional development)
- Big Body Play and Why It’s Important
- Five Essentials to Meaningful Play
- 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play
- Tools as Toys: Every Day Science Experiences
It is with a heavy heart that I share that Gail Perry, Editor of NAEYC’s Voices of Practitioners, passed away on July 22, 2015. Gail, who received her doctorate from Harvard, joined NAEYC in 2006. She brought with her a highly impressive and incredibly well respected 50-year career in early childhood education. She was a passionate early childhood advocate and researcher who participated in discussions that led to the creation of Head Start.
In addition, Gail taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, consulted, and researched a range of topics, including classroom discourse, the Reggio Emilia approach, and teacher research. Gail authored numerous books, book chapters, and articles, including writing “Alternate Modes of Teacher Preparation,” which appeared in Continuing Issues in Early Childhood Education; editing Our Inquiry, Our Practice: Undertaking, Supporting, and Learning From Early Childhood Teacher Research(ers), with Barbara Henderson and Daniel R. Meier; and contributing to Early Childhood Education: The countries, by Moncrieff Cochran. The most recent issue of Voices of Practitioners, volume 10, edition 2, was issued just last week.
Gail Perry was also revered and deeply appreciated for her dedication as a colleague and for her mentorship of others. In fact, Debra Murphy dedicated her dissertation to Gail in 2013. Anna Golden, recently wrote about Gail’s mentorship in a blog post, Thoughts about a Mentor: Gail Perry which we are sharing below. The world of early childhood education will forever be changed as a result of her contributions, and she will be deeply missed by her friends and colleagues.
- Rhian Evans Allvin
Thoughts About a Mentor: Gail Perry of NAEYC
If we're lucky, we all have a few people in our lives who help us go further than we could on our own.
Gail Perry is the long time New Book Editor at NAEYC, but I know her as the Editor of 'Voices of the Practitioners'. I am so grateful to Gail, not only for publishing such wonderful work, but also for her nurturing care and attention while editing my own work. I can't imagine a better editor for a first piece of published writing. Gail applied her skill as a researcher, book editor combined with a wealth of knowledge about young children. She really shepherded me and other authors through the whole process.
Gail told me a few stories about her most loved and admired Mother, Alice Coe Mendham Powell, a fascinating woman who was a classmate of Margaret Mead, worked for the rights of domestic workers and became the wife of a diplomat who served in the Roosevelt administration. After studying anthropology and child development, and meeting John Dewey and traveling with him in Russia in the 1928s, Alice came to believe that education was the engine of social change. She founded the Green Acres School outside of Washington In 1934. This school was ground-breaking because it was open to all children, used a sliding scale for tuition, and because it brought John Dewey's progressive ideas to to the nation's capitol. Gail grew up at this school, which was located on a farm where the family also lived. Green Acres school continues today (www.greenacres.org/history.pdf).
This blog post was originally published on Anna Golden's blog.
We received this post from Katrina Watson about how the ideas from Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards, authors of Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves inspire her work with young children. Has an NAEYC author or book inspired your work? Share how in the comments below!
The language we use with young children shapes their experiences and perspectives in life. Language gives someone context, an understanding of what to expect, what to do, and what to think about any given situation.
Using intentional language is critical in supporting children as they develop a sense of self.
“Why are you playing with dolls? Dolls are for girls,” is something I’ve heard many educators, parents and adults say to young boys. As children get older they begin to repeat these words and although they may not know why, this phrase becomes a reality.
Intentional language is key to eliminating stereotypes and biases. When we think carefully about what our words mean when we speak to young children, we convey positivity and respect, which influence children's developing ideas of the world around them. Being mindful of language is one more way we promote high quality care. Providing children with gender neutral, anti-bias views, allows them the chance to independently shape their own unique ideas and opinions.
Reflect on the following statement and questions.
“Why are you playing with dolls? Dolls are for girls.”
- What kind of information do you think a child gathers from hearing this phrase?
- How is this information similar or different for boys and girls?
- What are your own personal beliefs around this statement?
Quality childcare centers where educators carefully consider the language they use promotes positive social and emotional growth. This leads to the development of emotional intelligence and a strong sense of self. Boys who hear, “I see you're taking care of a baby, you are being so gentle while changing her diaper,” gather different views about themselves and their preferences than a boy who may hear, “Why are you playing with dolls? Dolls are for girls.” A young child who is interested in something will not understand why that object or experience is only for the opposite sex but will begin to develop this view and idea as being true.
What does self-reflective practice around intentional language look like?
The use of intentional language requires a lot of self-reflective practice. This requires two pieces; the first is reflecting on our language to see where our biases (conscious and unconscious) lie, the second is beginning to understand where these come from (childhood, social media, etc.). Once we uncover these biases we can better understand and alter our views and ideas and become more mindful in the language we use. In order to create a place where young children can understand their own preferences, thoughts, feelings, and ideas we must ourselves work to eliminate the stereotypes and biases that we hold.
In Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves the authors provide guidelines for selecting anti-bias children’s books. These guidelines are also useful for educators as we reflect on our own practice. Below is an outline of the information provided by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards.
Self Reflective Practices
- Be sure the images counter stereotypes—don’t always show boys playing outside, girls playing inside, African Americans as athletes, White people working as professionals, and so forth.
- Be sure your books reflect both similarities and differences within every group as well as between groups.
- Do not select books that depict only traditional, ritual or historical images of a group—this happens frequently with Native Americans, for example.
- Ask yourself: Can all of the children in my classroom find themselves in my book collection?
- Find books that encourage children to take action when faced with unfairness toward themselves or others.
Questions to Continue Self Reflective Practices
Ask yourself or discuss at a staff meeting:
- What biases do you have?
- Where do these biases come from?
- What can you do to disrupt patterns of bias in your work?
- Where in your work have you used language intentionally with children to eliminate biases or stereotypes? What can you do to continue this work?
When educators think about the information they are sharing, how that information may be interpreted and what view the child may develop from hearing that particular information they are promoting high quality experiences. These changes in an educator’s thinking and the development of self-reflective practices can support quality care and education for young children.
Katrina Watson, M.Ed, is an early childhood educator and advocate for young children at a private preschool in Silicon Valley.
by Cindy Hoisington and Beth Van Meeteren
Note: This blog post represents the thoughts of the NAEYC Science Interest Forum. NAEYC’s Interest Forums are vibrant communities where early childhood educators come together around topics they're passionate about to connect, discuss, and share information.
Recent research on young children recognizes their emerging capacity for conceptual learning in science as well as their developing abilities to learn, use, and apply science and engineering practices. It also clearly indicates the importance of quality early experiences in laying a strong foundation for later science learning and achievement (Duschl and Shouse, 2007). In the context of the current K-12 focus on the STEM disciplines and the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), this research has stimulated unprecedented discussion about science teaching and learning in the early years, particularly when it comes to preschoolers.
In 2014 the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) took the lead in this national conversation by soliciting and adopting a position statement on early childhood science focused on this age group. This statement frames a research-based approach to science education for 3-5 year olds that addresses their capacities for doing and learning science, the types of experiences and teaching that support it, and implications for teacher professional development and national policy. As early childhood educators and professional developers who are passionate about science and science teaching, we were thrilled when the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) quickly endorsed the NSTA position statement. However, we would like NAEYC to adopt its own position statement on early childhood science. Given that NAEYC has already endorsed the NSTA statement, why do we think this is so necessary?
Our primary reason is that NAEYC is nationally recognized as the principal authority on developmentally appropriate practice for educators and programs serving children birth through eight. As such, its position statements carry weight with teachers, administrators, teacher-trainers, curriculum developers, and others responsible for making informed decisions about science in early childhood settings. NAEYC also serves to remind us that early childhood does not begin at preschool and end at the threshold to Kindergarten. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, AND children in grades K-3 share a need for learning experiences that are responsive to their cognitive capacities as well as integrated, centered on direct experience, and playful. All of these children need teachers who have knowledge, not only about science, but also about how young children develop and learn science, and the teaching practices and strategies that make science content and practices accessible to them (Shulman, 1987). What organization outside of NAEYC is better situated to provide guidance to early childhood educators on how to integrate these three types of knowledge?
How a science position statement would benefit K-3 teachers and learners
Science specialists and policy makers may want to promote K-3 science teaching that aligns with the NGSS, but are confronted with two large constraints: first, the lack of support for science instructional time in K-3 and second, the lack of expertise in science instruction within K-3 teachers. The national push to consistently increase scores on standardized literacy and mathematics tests has placed K-3 public school teachers in the position of devoting more instructional time to literacy and mathematics to ensure these scores keep increasing. Many public school districts with low or stagnating literacy scores panic and demand their K-3 teachers devote more instructional time to literacy even to the point of totally excluding science. A few teachers report they face formal reprimands if they include science in their lesson plans. Even when K-3 teachers recognize the importance of including science in the curriculum and are allowed to do so, they struggle with how to effectively implement it. K-3 teachers are most often hired based upon their preparation and expertise in teaching early literacy, not teaching early science. Because their wide knowledge of literacy instruction and children’s literature, K-3 teachers often design lessons around a collection of books that address an NGSS core idea. In these units of study, children are assigned a question to investigate by reading through the books to learn how others have problem solved to find the answer. There may or may not be a hands-on component to these units of study, but all too often, the hands-on component is assessed by how well a child follows directions to get to a correct answer or result. An NAEYC science position statement could help K-3 teachers understand the importance of creating an educational environment that provokes thinking about several NGSS core ideas over time. It could educate teachers about the importance of encouraging primary investigations that address children’s curiosity and questions and allow children to design a plan for finding answers; document what they notice through writing or labeling drawings; look for patterns; explain what they think; and read, listen, and respond to their peers’ explanations. It could help K-3 teachers recognize that science is often the stimulus for developing the tools of literacy.
How a science position statement would benefit preschool teachers and learners
Fortunately for the preschool world, the NSTA position statement clearly describes the types of experiences that support science learning for 3-5 year-olds and the components of PD that build teachers’ abilities to facilitate them. Unfortunately however, many of the preschool teachers I work with are unfamiliar with NSTA and the big ideas and practices of science. They frequently have leftover anxieties related to their own school science experiences that seldom included opportunities to ask and investigate their own questions and share their own science experiences and ideas. This uncertainty often makes them leery of facilitating children’s science explorations for fear of taking the spontaneity, playfulness, and enjoyment out of them. On the other hand K-12 science educators and policy makers, anxious to raise levels of STEM learning and achievement for older children, often view the preschool years as an opportunity to start teaching concepts and skills early, often in ways that are unresponsive to the unique developmental characteristics of 3-5 year-olds. An NAEYC position statement could help integrate preschool teachers’ knowledge of child development and science educators’ knowledge of science content, allowing both audiences to build their knowledge of developmentally appropriate science teaching approaches and strategies that could bridge the two.
We believe that NAEYC can do for early childhood educators across the 0-8 spectrum what NSTA has begun with preschoolers. An NAEYC position statement on early childhood science could communicate a clear vision for early childhood science that forges connections between the early childhood community and the broader science education world for ALL young children.
The two authors of this blog have combined expertise in preschool (ages 3-5) and kindergarten/elementary (ages 5-8) science education and a joint interest in advocating for quality science teaching across the 0-8 age-span. We also have individual but overlapping perspectives on the need for an NAEYC science position statement.
by: Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
In 2015, the Apple App Store included more than 80,000 apps classified as education or learning-based. These apps are finding a ready audience. A 2013 survey by Common Sense Media found that 58% of parents of young children had downloaded apps, a number that is certainly higher today. A 2014 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that just over half of parents thought their children learned “a lot” from educational technologies, but they also said they were looking for guidance on how to choose educational apps from trusted sources.
How do we know whether an app is educational?
Most online sources for apps include customer reviews. Web sites like Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review provide reviews as well. But to date there has not been a clear view about what makes an app educational, creating what some have called “the digital wild west.”
Applying the Science of Learning to defining education apps
A recently published paper by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues provides a frame for evaluating the learning potential within apps. They describe four “pillars” of learning from the emerging research field called Science of Learning. These pillars describe the best circumstances for children’s learning. They are:
1. Active Learning - This is not just physical activity, but mental activity. Simply tapping or swiping to make something happen on the screen is not as “minds on” as moving images around to complete a puzzle or word, for example. Many apps get children touching the screen physically without much active learning.
2. Engagement in the learning process – Engaging in the learning process means not just getting the child’s attention, but also holding it on those elements of the app that support learning, and avoid distractions. As the authors write, in many apps, “animations, sound effects, and tangential games might be appealing to a child when activated but not add to the child’s understanding of the primary content because they disrupt the coherence of the learning experience and the child’s engagement.”
3. Meaningful learning – Learning occurs when it connects directly to the child. It could be meaningful because it is directly relevant to the child, because it relates to things the child already knows, or because it provides information the child was looking for.
4. Social interaction – Apps can allow for social interaction in several ways: (1) children can interact in-person with the app as a focus of their interaction; (2) multiple users can engage in the app at one time, interacting through the app but not in-person; and, (3) children can interact with characters in the app itself.
Not all apps are educational
While many apps can be active, engaging, meaningful, and interactive, the apps that produce deep learning are those with a designed educational goal that guides the child’s learning. Apps that hold children’s attention and engage them can lead to deep learning if they are built around an educational goal that is appropriate for the child. Some apps can be effective at engaging children, but without an educational goal built into the experience do not lead to deep learning. What is appealing about the model described by Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues is that is recognizes that apps can be used by children for many purposes – to engage in an educational process and learn, or to be engaged in technology in ways that are playful.
How to use this research
While there continues to be debate around young children’s exposure to technology, it is clear that technology, and apps marketed as educational, are here to stay. The framework provided by Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues can be a valuable guide to parents and teachers making choices between apps should they choose to use them. It also provides a framework for developers to consider in designing apps that are highly appealing for young children and can support deep learning.
Parents and teachers can use this framework to evaluate apps that children are using. Applying the four pillars to other information from review sites can guide intentional choices about what apps to allow children to use and which ones to avoid.
Developers can use these pillars to guide the design and implementation of apps that can maximize the potential for learning while clearly providing an educational goal.
Guidance on how to use technology with young children
- Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 - A joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College
- Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight—Research-based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old - A White Paper from Zero to Three
- A framework for quality digital media for young children - Fred Rogers Center
- Linn, S., Wolfsheimer Almon, J., & Levin, D. (2012). Facing the screen dilemma. Young children, technology and early education. Boston, MA: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. New York, NY: Alliance for Childhood.
- Guernsey, L. (2012). Screen time: How electronic media—from baby videos to educational software―affects your young child. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Kyle Snow, Ph.D is the Director of the NAEYC Center for Applied Research
by: Kyle Snow, Ph.D
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its annual State Preschool Yearbook. The NIEER Yearbook has chronicled the number of state programs providing early education to 3- and 4-years-olds since 2003 and has become a key source of data on early care and education generally. Here are 12 numbers of interest from the 2014 Yearbook:
1. 40 states plus the District of Columbia offer public preschool programs.
2. 53 state-funded programs operating in 40 states plus DC fund preschool programs serving 3- or 4-year-old children.
3. 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K in 2014; 1.1 million were 4-year olds and 200,000 were 3-year-olds.
4. 41.5% of all 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded or Head Start programs.
5. 6 state programs meet all 10 NIEER benchmarks for quality.
6. 17 state programs meet 8 or more of the NIEER benchmarks for quality.
7. $5,556,840,884 – total amount of state preschool spending in 2014 for 3- and 4-year-olds (increase of approximately $120,000,0000 from 2013).
8. 75 – number of years it would take to enroll 50% of 4-year-olds in state pre-k programs at the current rate of growth.
9. 53 (out of 53) state programs include comprehensive early learning standards.
10. 30 (out of 53) state programs require teachers to have BA degrees (in ECE or related field)
11. 18 (out of 53) state programs require teaching assistants to hold a CDA or equivalent.
12. $2.2 billion – the difference between total funding for programs serving 4-year-olds in 2014 and what economist Tim Bartik estimates it would cost to provide those same children with consistently high quality programs today ($7.4 billion vs. $5.2 billion estimated for 4-year-olds only)
Kyle Snow, Ph.D is the Director of the NAEYC Center for Applied Research
By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Is early childhood education a profession? Is it a field? Are early childhood educators custodial caretakers, or are they supporting children’s development of cognitive and social and emotional skills based on significant hard science? Is there a name for the profession we can all agree to? When we define the profession, are we leaving people behind? By defining the profession and pushing for an increase in compensation and wages, are we pricing families out of high-quality early learning or demanding greater public investments? What thresholds of licensing, certification, and education will federal initiatives and state systems agree to? Are institutions of higher education preparing early childhood educators to be effective teachers of young children birth through third grade?
In the March 2015 issue of Young Children I announced the launch of NAEYC ’s Strategic Direction and outlined the first of five strategic priorities, High-Quality Early Learning. The second, and equally important, strategic priority is The Profession.
The goal is simple: “The early childhood education profession exemplifies excellence and is recognized as vital and performing a critical role in society.“
- Professional preparation and development for birth through age 8 educators is aligned and grounded in NAEYC’s standards and delivered in innovative ways.
- Skills, knowledge, competencies, and qualifications are agreed upon and used to define the early care and education profession.
- Early childhood professionals are diverse, effective educators and leaders working within a compensation and recognition system that supports their excellence.
- Professional development and preparation systems support seamless progression for early care and education professionals to advance their education, professional learning, and careers.
Despite the goal’s simplicity and straightforwardness, I believe it will take every bit of courage, open-mindedness, innovation, and political savvy we NAEYC members can muster to attain it. The conflicts run deep—agreeing on the threshold of basic skills and competencies required to be an early childhood educator, determining whether certain roles constitute a professional position, and deciding what certifications are necessary and whether they should vary by state. Finally, we have made little or no progress in ensuring that early childhood educators work in a system of compensation and recognition that supports their excellence.
“So,” skeptics may say, “why now? It’s not as if this goal hasn’t been proposed before.”
They are right. Our field has been addressing this goal for decades. In fact, within NAEYC there are reams of documentation and a rich history of discussions and similar initiatives. At the risk of seeming to see the world through rose-colored glasses, I argue that today is different. Today, as never before,
- Social scientists in early learning and developmentally appropriate practice are strongly supported by hard science—neuroscience—confirming that learning begins at birth
- Economists state clearly that there is a strong return on investment to society, families, and individuals when young children have access to high-quality early learning
- Significant federal, state, and local public funds have been invested in a system of early care and education
- Stakes are high for all young children—regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status—to start kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life
- Seven in 10 Americans say they favor using federal money to make sure high-quality education programs are available for every child in the United States
This all bodes well for recognition of the important role of early childhood educators.
In the new Strategic Direction NAEYC confirms its eagerness to be an innovative, risk-taking organization. Engaging with politicians, influencing policy, building consensus, developing resources—all will be essential in reaching this goal for the profession. Many of NAEYC’s partnering organizations also recognize that our collective time has come. And while we set out on this journey toward professional excellence and recognition, here is a glimpse of several new resources that will guide us in the next months:
- NAEYC’s National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, June 7–10, in New Orleans. The theme is The Early Childhood Profession We All Want: What Will It Take to Get Us There? You will want to be there to join in this conversation!
- Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, by Stacie Goffin. NAEYC is copublishing this title with Redleaf Press, for release in June (a comprehensive member benefit). Known for her clarity, purpose, and tireless advocacy, Stacie offers our field a roadmap for initiating a conversation from the inside out. Her premise is that we have to own this agenda rather than having a definition created for us.
- #InvestInUs. NAEYC will be using #InvestInUs during a six-week campaign to highlight teacher testimonials.
- NAEYC’s national marketing and behavioral research, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation. What motivates early childhood educators to make decisions about their careers? What messages about early childhood educators influence the perceptions and decisions of likely voters? And who are the messengers? Look for the release of these research results in fall 2015.
- Fall 2015 projects funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. A series of new resources are slated for release in the fall, including a national higher education directory, an online community for higher education faculty, and a pilot designed to test the expansion of NAEYC’s Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation (ECADA).
- The collection of articles in this issue of Young Children, which focuses on the theme Leadership: Supporting a New Generation of Early Childhood Professionals. This cluster offers diverse views of what it means to be a leader at this time of national emphasis on early childhood education, and provides specific strategies that emerging leaders can use to hone their leadership skills.
How the questions that open this column are answered is up to us—in our action (or inaction) to professionalize the field of early care and education. The resources listed above are just the beginning. I assure you NAEYC is totally committed. But it will take the entire field and our key stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to move this agenda forward. So I leave you with a request: If this is a top priority for you, if you have waited way too long and have not seen nearly enough progress, what are you going to do in your role—tomorrow, next week, this year—to move the needle on behalf of yourself and your colleagues? Are you ready to join this movement?
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Rhian Evans Allvin is the Executive Director at NAEYC.
By Marilou Hyson
Horse milk. That’s what we received as a parting gift, in little plastic bottles, following a great discussion accompanied by bountiful food at an early childhood center located on Sumbawa, one of Indonesia’s 18,307 islands. The refreshments may have been unusual, but the teachers’ dedication to their work—and the challenges they face—were very similar to what one can find in the United States. For over ten years I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a consultant with the World Bank and Save the Children, supporting early childhood projects in many developing countries, and often working with governments to help implement their vision for young children’s development and learning. This is one small slice of that work, or a sip of that horse milk.
- Indonesian children rank near the bottom on most international comparisons of academic achievement, with the poorest children having the worst outcomes
- Many poor children experience stunted growth, caused by poor maternal nutrition and inadequate early feeding; stunting limits children’s physical and intellectual development, often for life
- Families with low incomes have fewer resources to stimulate children’s early development and learning
- Most low-income families do not have access to affordable early childhood services
Early Childhood in Indonesia—Professional Development Launching Pads
Public policies and statements from the government of Indonesia reflect a strong commitment to education, including programs for parents and their young children. However, the level of funding for these services has not kept pace with the government’s stated commitments. Additionally, the quality of services remains low. To address the quality issue, the government has introduced a number of new teacher training efforts.
Observing these professional development activities in various corners of this large, diverse island nation I have come to think of them as “launching pads:” platforms that have the potential to support excellent early childhood professional development but that are not yet ready to provide such support. For example:
1. National Early Childhood Training Programs: The Ministry of Education has developed group teacher training sessions at the basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. As elsewhere, many teachers lack formal education and experience, so this is a much-needed platform. However, the training is currently too theoretical and uses mainly a lecture methodology. Even the “basic” training is at too high a level for complete beginners.
2. Teacher Cluster Groups, or Gugus PAUD: Begun in primary and secondary schools, these monthly meetings have now spread to early childhood. The goal has been to create opportunities for peer interaction and continuous professional development. Visiting these meetings, I’ve observed teachers eagerly participating. However, the problem is that often their time isn’t well spent. “Make-and-take” workshops are popular, and at the other extreme so are formal, Power Point-heavy lectures. With funding from the World Bank and others, our team of international and national consultants, government officials, and other ECE stakeholders aims to develop practical handbooks for leaders of these groups, with lots of ideas for how to enrich these learning communities.
3. Week-Long Internships, or Magang: The government has identified many early childhood programs to serve as sites where groups of teachers spend a week observing quality practices and learning from the staff and directors. Again, teachers love this opportunity, but it needs to be enhanced. Too often, there is a disconnect between the Magang site (large, rich in learning materials, and serving well-to-do families) and the small village programs to which Magang attendees will return. Our team hopes to bridge these gaps with basic handbooks and resources to help the hosts and the participants get more out of the Magang experience.
4. Early Childhood Supervisors, or Penilik: Every district in the country has these supervisors, who make regular visits to early childhood programs. This creates great potential for coaching. However, most Penilik have little understanding of early childhood, which is only part of their responsibility. Building their knowledge base and coaching skills is a top priority.
A Question for You
So...Indonesia has some potentially great launching pads, but these activities need tweaks and, in some cases, major repairs to get them into full operation. What are your local professional development launching pads? Are the challenges for improvement similar? What lessons can we share?
Marilou Hyson is a consultant in Early Childhood Development Education and an Adjunct Professor with the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston.