“We need early care and education leaders in higher education who are rooted in the unique developmental needs and learning opportunities of the youngest children and their families.”
The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success heard from Anne Douglass, assistant professor of early care and education at UMass Boston, who provided remarks at a public information gathering session on Friday, February 28 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC.
Douglass emphasized the importance of early educator preparation, and professional development that is focused on the workplace context for a continuum of pre-service through in-service quality improvement efforts. She cited compelling evidence from other disciplines that a positive workplace context is essential for quality improvement and the transfer of learning to practice.
Douglass recommended the IOM Committee further develop this evidence base with a research agenda that includes the workplace context as an essential element in quality improvement. She also emphasized the establishment of advanced leadership pathways in higher education, to meet the urgent need for faculty, scholars, and leaders in the field with early childhood expertise.
Douglass underscored the many gaps between what the early care and education field (ECE) needs and what currently exists in higher education. As states have increased requirements for early educators to have college degrees, the lack of sufficient higher education programs—and appropriately-qualified faculty to teach in those programs—has become pressingly evident.
At UMass Boston, a bachelor’s degree program established in 2009 designed to meet the needs of the ECE workforce started with 15 students, and has grown to a current enrollment of over 200 students.
One of the most pressing needs is for ECE leadership development and research, and that includes doctoral programs that focus on birth to five. Doctorally-prepared leaders are needed for multiple roles: as teacher educators, researchers, and policy makers. Douglass pointed to the Post Master’s Certificate Program in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice at UMass Boston, supported by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care and its Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, as an example of the type of leadership pathway, which supports early educators from within the most diverse workforce sector in all of education and supports those with expertise in birth to five settings.
Douglass urged the committee to support the development of higher education pathways that include doctoral study and suggested a personnel preparation funding stream to support students and to support improvement in higher education program content and quality.