By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development
Early childhood is a time of enormous growth and development. Children are developing more rapidly during the early years of life than at any other time in their lives. We know the relationship between the adult and the child is the single biggest predictor of quality. It is not surprising then that our early childhood teachers are the most critical components of high-quality early learning programs and ensuring that children enter school ready to learn.
I traveled last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell as we visited northwest Montana. I enjoyed returning to Montana where I was born and raised. I volunteered at one of the first Head Start programs on Flathead Reservation, an experience that influenced my education and career choices. Montana is home - where I went to college (University of Montana), started my career in early childhood education, and where I raised my family in northern Cheyanne. It was good to visit the Flathead Reservation to hear directly from tribal leaders, members, and staff about their innovations in early childhood education, including their successes and challenges.
While in Montana, Secretary Burwell announced a first of its kind partnership between Early EdU: An Alliance for Head Start and Early Childhood Teaching through the University of Washington and Salish Kootenai College (SKC), a postsecondary educational institution for Native Americans.
Early EdU is an alliance of Institutions of Higher Education working together to increase access to affordable bachelor’s degrees, offering relevant coursework and effective college instruction for early care and education professionals working with preschool-age children. The Office of Head Start at ACF initiated the project for a variety of reasons, including:
- The increasing demand for a high-quality early childhood workforce, given the latest neuroscience and the importance of the earliest years;
- The need for greater access to higher education degree programs (including online and non-traditional options) for the early childhood workforce, who are generally underpaid and overworked and lack the time and resources to attain a degree; and
- The concern that existing bachelor degree programs lack in quality, applicability, and accessibility.
EarlyEdU consists of a set of college-level, competency based courses in early childhood education, delivered in conjunction with students’ field-based learning. The courses, developed by a cadre of national experts led by the University of Washington, include open source reading, video lectures, interactive knowledge checks, guest expert lectures, student reflection and peer learning, coaching, and competency-based assignments.
To accompany the courses, Office of Head Start also funded the development of the Coaching Companion, a web-based platform that enables coaching and consultation, virtual peer learning, and tracking progress in practice over time.
EarlyEdU is developing a consortium of institutes of higher education that will pilot the courses in the Spring of 2016 with support from the Office of Head Start and the University of Washington. The consortium will also participate in faculty institutes to share best practice and contribute to the ongoing development of this evidence based approach to teaching and learning. Broader roll out of Early EdU will include a special focus on high priority partners including tribal colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and Hispanic serving institutions (HSI), given the great need for a diverse high-quality early learning workforce.
The partnership with SKC marks one of the first commitments made by an institution of higher education, and the first commitment by a tribal college, to pilot Early EdU. This first-of-its-kind partnership between SKC and Early EdU is an important step forward in ensuring that young children in tribal communities have access to high-quality early childhood programs, with knowledgeable teachers who are well equipped to provide enriching and nurturing early experiences. It is a model for other tribes, States, and communities around the country.
For more information on EarlyEd U, click here: The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning Visit disclaimer page (NCQTL)