By Sara Mickelson
A key focus of Rhode Island’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Grant is to ensure children are educated by a high-quality workforce. Our approach to improving our workforce is to set clear expectations through Workforce Knowledge and Competencies, including a career pathway for educators, and to support them in achieving these expectations.
In addition, we recognize the need to ensure there is a cohesive professional development pathway, aligned to our competencies, that supports educators in progressing up the career pathway. Partnering with our Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) to understand the current state of higher education and to ensure programs are aligned with our competencies and poised to improve the knowledge and skills of both pre-service teachers and those currently in the field is a crucial part of our work.
Our first step in partnering with our IHEs was to better understand each of their early childhood education programs. To achieve this, Rhode Island’s Early Learning Council supported the RI Department of Education to work with the Center for Study of Child Care Employment at University of California-Berkeley to conduct the Early Childhood Higher Education Inventory.
The Inventory provided baseline data on the current state of our early childhood education degree programs. This data pointed to several needs, including the need to expand infant/toddler courses, improve field experiences, and support IHEs in aligning programs to the Rhode Island Workforce Knowledge and Competencies for Early Childhood Teachers.
Though Rhode Island dedicated significant RTT-ELC resources to support educators in attaining degrees, this inventory pointed to a clear need to provide further support to our bachelor’s level programs. As a result, $2 million was allocated in order for our IHEs to establish Centers for Early Childhood Teaching and Learning. These centers, which are currently in the design phase, will focus on supporting the current workforce to attain bachelor’s degrees and ensure that there is both high-quality coursework to address the entirety of the birth-five population and field experiences that meet rigorous criteria, as well as provide resources for IHEs to align all early childhood coursework with the Workforce Knowledge and Competencies.
The Early Childhood Higher Education Inventory provided foundational data to move forward our state’s conversation on improving our workforce and ensure that children’s developmental and educational needs are met and highlighted the need to collect ongoing data about our IHE programs. Through our Centers for Teaching and Learning we are confident we can achieve these ends and ensure we are effectively supporting our workforce to support positive child outcomes.