Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

We know what to do; we just need to do it.

That’s the conclusion of a new report published by the Institute of Medicine called, “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation.” (We’ve blogged about the institute’s work here.)

As a brief on the report explains, “The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) were commissioned to explore the science of child development, particularly looking at implications for the professionals who work with children birth through age 8.”

“…much is known about how children learn and develop,” as well as about “what professionals who provide care and education for children need to know and be able to do, and what professional learning supports they need.”

And while “much of that knowledge increasingly informs standards for what should be, it is not fully reflected in what is—the current capacities and practices of the workforce, the settings in which they work, the policies and infrastructure that set qualifications and provide professional learning, and the government and other funders who support and oversee these systems.” 

How do early education and care professional travel from knowing to doing?

The report offers a blueprint with 13 recommendations for local, state, and national action. The goal is to build “a unifying foundation” by improving the professional training and practices of the birth-through-8 workforce.

As the brief says, the report “recommends actions geared toward:

 improving higher education and ongoing professional learning

 strengthening qualification requirements based on knowledge and competencies, and,

• promoting evaluation that leads to continuous improvements in professional practices.”

The report has won praise from NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children).

“This report marks an important day for early childhood educators,” Rhian Evans Allvin, NAEYC’s executive director said in a press release. “I believe our time has come and that it is up to all of us in the early childhood education field to exhibit the courage and leadership it will take to attract and retain the most effective educators. This report provides an excellent blueprint for what it will take to get there.”

“The 13 recommendations rest on a solid foundation of research, policy, and practice and are closely aligned with key elements of NAEYC’s new Strategic Direction, released in November 2014. They recognize the science of how young children learn, the sophistication that is required to ensure educational excellence, and the systems approach necessary to support young children and early childhood educators on multiple fronts.”

NAEYC also provides a convenient summary of the recommendations, among them:

• “Strengthen competency-based qualification requirements for all care and education professionals working with children from birth through age 8.”

• “Develop and implement comprehensive pathways and multiyear timelines at the individual, institutional, and policy levels for transitioning to a minimum bachelor’s degree qualification requirement, with specialized knowledge and competencies, for all lead educators working with children from birth through age 8.”

• “Build an interdisciplinary foundation in higher education for child development.”

• “Develop a new paradigm for evaluation and assessment of professional practice for those who work with children from birth through age 8.”

• “Support workforce development with coherent funding, oversight, and policies.”

• “Support comprehensive state- and local-level efforts to transform the professional workforce for children from birth through age 8.”

Check out NAEYC’s press release or the full IOM report to read all the recommendations.

In its conclusion, the IOM report notes, “Many of the challenges discussed in this report are not new. For too long, the nation has been making do with the systems and policies for the care and education workforce that are rather than envisioning the systems and policies that are needed, and committing to the strategies necessary to achieve them.”

“Comprehensive implementation of these recommendations will not happen overnight and will not come cheaply… Yet persisting with the status quo for the professionals who do this important, complex work will only perpetuate today’s fragmented approach. The ultimate result will be inadequate learning and development of young children, especially among the nation’s most vulnerable families and communities.”

But if the country makes the needed changes, these changes will hold the “promise for helping to retain highly effective practitioners in these professional roles and to bolster the recruitment of a robust and viable pipeline of new professionals. It is through the quality work of these adults that the nation can make it right from the very beginning for all of its children.”