A new paper by Sara Mead and Kevin Carey, “Beyond Bachelor’s: The Case for Charter Colleges of Early Childhood Education,” has ignited a lively debate. Mead and Carey propose that states should create new organizations to meet the unique educational needs of professionals working with children from birth through pre-k: charter colleges of early childhood education, which would award teaching credentials based on demonstrated skills instead of on coursework leading to a bachelor’s degree.
Mead and Carey see the charter colleges as a way to help increase the supply of high-quality early childhood educators, lead to better compensation for early childhood educators and create a new model of flexible and accountable higher education and credentialing. At the Huffington Post, Susan Ochshorn argued, “To suggest that B.A.s are superfluous, that early childhood practitioners opt out of the current system of higher education, and that they be segregated in another maze of preparation is to perpetuate long-standing divisions and inequities between birth-to-five educators and their colleagues along the K-12 spectrum.”
Sara Mead, as many of our readers know, directed the Early Education Initiative until late 2009, and has been a helpful and articulate colleague on many issues related to improving early education for young chidlren. She is now an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the achievement of students from low-income families. Early Ed Watch and Mead conducted an interview over email to discuss the proposal and address questions that have arisen since it was published. Here is the edited transcript:
1. Why don’t you think early childhood educators need bachelor’s degrees?
I don't think we're exactly arguing that early childhood educators "don't need bachelor's degrees." Bachelor's degrees are good things! A lot of Kevin's work focuses on how to help more people earn bachelor's degrees, and we hope that our proposal would create pathways that might make it easier for more early childhood educators to earn bachelor's degrees as well.
That said, we have to be honest about the research and the limitations of bachelor's degrees. The research on whether or not teachers with bachelor’s degrees are more effective than teachers without is decidedly mixed. Even the most positive studies on the impact of bachelor's degrees found modest to moderate impacts.
Moreover, our higher education system has a terrible track record of serving students who meet the same demographic profile as the existing early childhood workforce: nontraditional students, working full-time, often from racial/ethnic minorities and often with children of their own. Also, higher education coursework required to earn a bachelor's degree is both time-consuming and costly.
All that suggests that trying to move more early childhood educators through the existing higher education system may not be the most effective, or cost effective, strategy for improving their achievement of knowledge and skills that make them more effective in their jobs.
We believe that there is a need for new, more flexible models of higher education that enable early childhood educators to attain meaningful credentials based on demonstrated knowledge, skills and effectiveness, rather than seat time. Charter colleges of early childhood education are intended to facilitate the creation of those models.
2. In your paper you write that states should, “Identify metrics to award credentials based on whether teachers have successfully demonstrated their effectiveness in applying new knowledge and skills to improve children’s learning and base compensation on those credentials.” Why do we need to identify metrics for teaching, and how do you see metrics working in your model? Is there room to incorporate this concept into traditional early childhood teacher preparation?
We believe that conversations about teacher quality in early childhood education should shift from focusing primarily on coursework and higher education credentials to instead focusing on what teachers actually do in the classroom and the results they produce for children. There are two primary types of metrics that are important here: 1) Metrics' of teachers practice, knowledge and skills, and 2) Metrics of impact on children’s learning.
We already have valid and reliable measures of teacher classroom practice that have been demonstrated to predict student learning gains – most notably the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). We can envision a charter college of early childhood education that would award credentials to teachers who demonstrate a certain level of performance on CLASS. Finally, metrics of teachers’ impact on children’s learning are more complicated at the early childhood level, but effective teacher preparation programs, traditional or alternative, should be using strategies to evaluate whether or not their students and graduates are improving children’s learning and development.
3. You suggest that the charter college of early education model could be a way to improve early childhood educator compensation. How do you see this happening?
Charter colleges of early education would expand the pathways through which early childhood educators could earn recognized credentials. Because these credentials would be based on evidence of mastery of specific knowledge and skills, they would provide a clear signifier to employers and consumers about what early childhood educators know and can do and their ability to work effectively with young children – which is not always the case with existing credentials.
Ultimately, improving compensation for early childhood educators requires increased investment from consumers and governments in high-quality early childhood programs – and that’s true whether teachers have bachelor’s degrees or other types of credentials.
4. Right now, turnover is high among those who work in early childhood education. Do you think your model would reduce turnover, and if so, how?
Again, we can’t expect that credentialing and professional development will address all early childhood workforce challenges. Without increased compensation, it is very difficult to maintain high-quality staff in many settings.
We do think that charter colleges of early childhood education, by creating more diverse and flexible pathways for existing educators to improve their knowledge and skills, can help ensure that increased education requirements for early childhood workers do not unintentionally push experienced educators out of the field.
5. Other than the charter structure, how does what you propose differ from what some states are trying to do with career lattices?
The first difference is that the charter colleges of early childhood education would create the flexibility to enable early childhood educators to earn credentials based on factors other than seat time and coursework. Most career lattices provide greater flexibility in how providers complete credentials and enable them to stack credentials over time, but they still rely on seat time and coursework as requirements for credentials.
The second and probably more important difference is that charter colleges of early childhood education would be accountable for their effectiveness in increasing the skills of early childhood educators and for the impact of their graduates in the classroom. Career lattices do not typically hold professional development providers or higher education institutions accountable for their track record in getting students to credentials or the performance of their graduates in the classroom.
6. Do you have any worries that your proposed model for early childhood teacher preparation would reinforce the divide between birth to 5 and K-12 education?
No. Over the past decade, the K-12 system has actually been moving away from traditional models of teacher preparation, increasing the use of alternative certification models, allowing providers other than higher education institutions to offer teacher credentials and moving away from the traditional focus on coursework and seat time to emphasize credentialing based on demonstrated effectiveness. The recently launched Relay Graduate School of Education in New York is a great example of this approach. Charter colleges of early childhood education would apply the same approach to credentialing for early childhood educators: allowing non-higher education providers to deliver credentialing coursework, enabling early childhood educators to get credit for experience and skills and awarding credentials based on demonstrated mastery and effectiveness rather than seat time and coursework.
UPDATED 10/3/11 at 5:10 p.m. with more information about Mead's background.