As we reflect back on our rich history and think about a promising future, not just for T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$, but for early education systems and the workforce in general, we are taking stock of the forecasts for the future we made at our 10-year and 20-year anniversaries of T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® and where we are now.
At our 10th anniversary in 2000, both T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$ were moving into new states and communities and we expected that trend would continue. Along with the expansion of both initiatives, the Center came into being as a new program of Child Care Services Association, with its first paid staff on board and the promise of a national database for all T.E.A.C.H. programs to study participants and outcomes across the country. We understood then that even with the accomplishments of T.E.A.C.H. to that point, the issues of insufficiently educated, inadequately compensated and an unstable early childhood workforce would require a major infusion of public dollars into the system to support a workforce mirroring the public education system. Our hope was that T.E.A.C.H. would no longer be needed by the end of its second decade, because adequately funded early education and higher education systems would prepare early educators to best serve our country’s youngest children. We were naïve in our estimation of how intractable this issue was.
At our 20th anniversary in 2010, we knew that moving the field forward for the next 20 years would require bold changes, including both federal and state investments. We imagined a professional development and compensation set aside in the Child Care and Development Block Grant, federal research dollars for states to better understand the workforce through regularly conducted workforce studies, requirements for development and implementation of state early education workforce plans, better workforce education standards in licensing regulations, more funding for education and compensation initiatives and more resources for the infant toddler workforce. Many of our hopes did come true during this past decade.
Reflections Going Forward
As we move into our fourth decade, we see that advances have been made around education, compensation, retention and career pathways for the early education workforce, and in the systems that support them. While we recognize that not all of the hopes and dreams we envisioned have come to fruition, we are hopeful for the future.
Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8, and its case statement and recommendation that all children have lead teachers with a BA in early childhood education as their foundation on which to build their knowledge and skills has put in motion a national discussion on how to make this happen.Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education offers a framework for a funding strategy that will provide reliable, accessible high-quality early education, including a highly qualified and adequately compensated workforce for all of our nation’s children.The Power to the Profession Initiative has sparked and kept alight a conversation and decision making process around creating a coherent and unified framework of teacher education and preparation for the early education workforce.The Child Care and Development Block Grant has increased the quality set aside for improving infant and toddler program quality and supply.Federal Preschool Development Grants have provided much needed funding to states to support system building around improving overall quality of early education programs.Major public awareness of the issues of workforce development, compensation and retention has resulted in more investments in the workforce.
We know we still have a long way to go to change the understanding, awareness and conversation about the importance of learning in the early years by the public and by policymakers, but awareness is increasing in the media and among policymakers, business leaders and politicians. We know the price tag is high to truly transform early education, and that funding early education has to become a priority in our country, but it’s really not about the money. It’s about setting priorities. We are hopeful for the future. To be anything less, would be to cheat our children out of the future they, and we, aspire to.
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