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The ‘Race to the Top’ Winners: How States Plan to Develop the Workforce

Published:  March 2, 2012
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The RTT-ELC is the first joint grant competition between the Departments of ED and HHS. Pictured here are U.S. Secretaries Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius, leaders of the two departments.

This is the fourth post in a series on winners of the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), the Obama Administration’s competition to spur improvements in early learning for childrenup to age 5.  Two weeks ago, we wrote about states’ plans to improve early learning standards, birth to 5. The first two posts in this series described states’ plans to use and evaluate quality rating & improvement systems. Today we explore plans to develop the workforce. Our final post will look at states’ plans for kindergarten entry assessments.

For the RTT-ELC competition, states were required to explain their plans to create a strong early education workforce. It is important to have strong teachers in early childhood programs, which is why improving the quality of the overall workforce and retaining effective teachers was a priority in the competition. States laid out a range of different plans, from Massachusetts’ proposal to give tax credits to early educators to California’s emphasis on ensuring that four-year institutions accept credits from community colleges.

Specifically, states had to show they were doing one or both of the following:

1.    Developing a workforce competency framework (what individuals in the early education workforce should know and be able to do) and establishing a common, statewide progression of credentials and degrees aligned with the framework. Additionally states were asked to explain how they work with postsecondary institutions and other training providers to align professional development with the framework; and/or

2.    Supporting early educators in improving their knowledge, skills and abilities by expanding access to effective professional development (aligned with the competency framework) and by implementing policies and incentives that promote improvement, career advancement and retention of effective teachers.

Delaware and Massachusetts were the two highest scoring applicants with 38.8 and 37.2 points, respectively. The entire workforce development section was worth 40 points. If states opted to develop plans for both subsections, they were worth 20 points each. Here’s how the winning states fared:

Focus Investment Area:

A Great Early Education Workforce


Points for

subsection 1

Points for

subsection 2
















 North Carolina









 Rhode Island




Not shown above, nine non-winning states earned higher scores than some of the winning states. Oregon tied Massachusetts for the second highest score. Other high scoring non-winning states include: New Mexico, Wisconsin, Maine, DC, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey. (You can find these states’ applications here.)

All of the winning states currently have a set or sets of early education workforce competencies at least for early childhood teachers. Rhode Island, for instance, also plans to develop additional sets of competencies for family child care providers, early childhood special educators, program administrators and professional development providers and postsecondary staff. The state expects to complete the frameworks for family child care providers and early childhood special education teachers this summer. At that time, the state will work with postsecondary institutions to align their curricula with the state’s competency framework.

For this post, we will focus on four types of initiatives described by the winning states:

  • Aligning teacher preparation with state competency frameworks;
  • Improving articulation between 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions;
  • Improving access to professional development;
  • Providing incentives for improving practice and to improve compensation.

We’ll also highlight a few other initiatives.

Aligning teacher preparation with state competency frameworks

  • As part of Delaware’s application, all 2- and 4-year preparation programs have agreed to align their coursework with both the state’s early learning standards and the competency framework by the fourth year of the grant.
  • Minnesota plans to develop new guides to make its competency framework more accessible and understandable for educators working with children aged 3 to 5 and for family child care providers.
  • Ohio says that its primary professional development providers and some postsecondary institutions already align with the state’s competency framework, but it acknowledges that the state does not have a clear picture of the extent of that alignment, especially in bachelor’s degree programs. So the state plans to analyze the alignment of credential and degree programs with its competency framework. The state will engage with postsecondary institutions and other professional development providers to align their coursework with the framework.

Improving articulation between two- and four-year institutions of higher education

  • In 2006, California developed a “program of study” for community colleges, which was aligned with California’s competency framework. The program of study, referred to as the “Core 8” coursework, includes courses in child growth and development; child, family and community; curriculum; principles and practices of teaching young children; observation and assessment; health, safety and nutrition; teaching in a diverse society; and a student teaching experience.

Presently 102 of 105 community colleges have aligned with or intend to align with the Core 8. With the RTT-ELC grant, the state plans to expand the Core 8 to include coursework on teaching infants and toddlers; working with children with special needs; and program administration. The plan is to ensure that four-year institutions accept these courses for credit when students transfer.

  • Massachusetts has two strategies to remove obstacles for students who want to transfer from a community college to a four-year preparation program. In 2010, the state produced a map to help students compare institutions and read about coursework and other program completion requirements. Massachusetts has also created the “Early Childhood Education Transfer Compact,” which has been signed by institutions of higher education. To ensure it is implemented as intended, the state’s Early Education and Care (EEC) office is working the Department of Higher Education and the institutions to address challenges with the transfer of credits from two-year to four-year institutions. EEC also plans to convene a college president’s forum to specifically address gaps in teacher preparedness, particularly in the subject areas.
  • North Carolina is working on improving transitions from community colleges to four-year universities. Some universities accept the associate’s degree in early childhood education as a block, but others require students to repeat courses. The state’s Birth-Kindergarten Consortium has started to develop a system-wide articulation agreement between community colleges and state universities offering the birth-kindergarten license. The state’s Early Childhood Professional Development Council is charged with working to get all universities to adopt the agreement.

This articulation issue is a big one for a lot of states. We wrote about it in our policy paper Getting in Sync: Revamping Preparation and Licensure for Teachers in Pre-K, Kindergarten and the Early GradesWe found that students who started their early childhood education preparation at a community college often have to repeat courses when they transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. This is not fair to prospective teachers, adding both cost and time barriers to completing their education.

Improving access to professional development

  • Delaware plans to provide voluntary on-site leadership coaching to early education program directors. Directors of programs serving large numbers of high-need children will receive two days of coaching per month and other directors will receive a half day of coaching per month. The coaching will focus on understanding the state’s early educator competencies, observing adult-child interactions and providing useful feedback, promoting developmentally appropriate practice and using the state’s career lattice. (A career lattice is a pathway of lateral and upward moves early educators can make – typically professional development, additional credentials or degrees) to advance their knowledge, skills and abilities and in many cases their compensation.)
  • In Maryland, the state is anticipating a shortfall of certified teachers in its state-funded programs due to requirements that they have a bachelor’s degree and state certification in early childhood. The state plans to create an alternative pathway for teacher preparation in early childhood certification using the state’s existing structure for alternative preparation for subject area education. The state’s Department of Education will collaborate with a state university create the alternate path for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree and are seeking PreK-3rd certification. Maryland plans to implement this initiative by July 1, 2013.
  • North Carolina plans to establish an innovation fund for community college programs to increase access and student success. Potential students are often working full-time with family obligations. The fund will help programs create evening and weekend courses as well as online options to meet working students’ needs. Each year, community colleges will be able to apply for funding under this program. North Carolina also plans to create an online master’s degree in early childhood program leadership and management to enable program administrators to develop these skills.
  • Washington will embed its career lattice in the state’s registry, the Managed Education and Registry Information Tool (MERIT), this year. MERIT helps early educators find training opportunities, access information on career pathways and track individual career progress. Once registered, early educators will be assigned one of the 15 levels on the career lattice based on verification of their education and training. Participants will receive a $100 reward for registering in MERIT. Then they will receive additional rewards as they progress up the career lattice, completing trainings and attaining credentials or degrees.

Providing incentives for improving practice and to improve compensation

  • Delaware plans to launch a new compensation strategy for early education programs that helps to recruit, develop and retain effective teachers.  Programs serving large numbers of high-need children will be given first priority. The state’s strategy includes 1) recruitment bonuses for teachers with an associate’s degree or higher and who remain with the program for at least one year, and 2) wage enhancements for teachers who attain additional credentials and higher levels on the state’s career lattice. These enhancements will also be tied to the state’s quality rating & improvement system. Teachers who have an associate’s degree or higher, for example, will earn a $3,000 annual enhancement and those who work in programs with a three- to five-star rating will earn a $4,000 annual enhancement.
  • Maryland currently offers and plans to continue offering funding for credentialed child care providers to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related discipline.
  • Massachusetts hopes to implement a tax credit for early educators to address the issue of inadequate compensation. There is a bill currently pending in the state legislature that calls for the creation of a 15 percent refundable tax credit for early educators.

Other initiatives

  • Beginning this summer, Massachusetts plans to evaluate the effectiveness of state-funded workforce development programs. The state will look at how well higher education coursework and early educator trainings match the state’s competency framework.
  • Minnesota plans to develop a virtual career guidance website for early childhood educators who are seeking career advising.
  • North Carolina intends to hire an additional “healthy social behavior specialist” to provide technical assistance and training to classrooms with children with challenging behaviors. This is in response to the number of expulsions and suspensions from early learning programs. The specialist will be able to help teachers learn to better handle children’s behavior problems.

For more information on the composition and compensation of the early education workforce see this recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Look for our last post in this series in the coming weeks; it will explore states’ plans to implement kindergarten entry assessments.

 Also be sure to visit our special page on the Race to the Top  Early Learning Challenge for continuing coverage.

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