The recent (September 20, 2018) Early Childhood Education (ECE) Apprenticeship Conference brought national experts to Philadelphia to celebrate the ECE Apprenticeship Program as a successful model for replication and to place it in context of national conversations around the ECE profession.  Speakers shared bold, practical, and actionable ideas throughout the morning:

  • Recognize the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC’s) competencies for all educators working with children birth to age 8; regardless of program funding for the classroom in which the educator works, program type, or location.  This will require a re-assessment of where quality rating improvement systems fit into the landscape.

  • Use the entire Institute of Medicine and National Research Council Transforming the Workforce report – not just snippets – as a framework for best practice teacher preparation and build both knowledge and skill attainment into programs of study.
  • Enter data into Pennsylvania’s Professional Development Registry so policy makers can assess the current credentials, education levels and compensation of the ECE workforce and develop appropriate policies and programs to support professional growth.

  • Protect the diversity of the current ECE workforce by using student-centered design when building education programs.  The ECE Apprenticeship program turns the “inconvenience” of full-time employment – as it relates to degree attainment – into a “super power” by allowing apprentices to demonstrate competencies on the job as a means of earning college credits.

  • Embrace the pathway of CDA to AA to BA; this is a national model that supports best practice in ECE classrooms.  Offer early childhood education degrees that include classroom instruction and practical experience that are based on and assessed in meeting national early educator competencies.  A BA in sociology or social work does not prepare an educator to effectively teach children birth to age 8, just as a BA in biology or psychology does not prepare a nurse to safely administer care.

  • Confront the issue of compensation.  As credential and degree requirements for ECE educators increase, so too must compensation.  The K-12 system of compensation may not be the model that ECE wants to follow.  Double the Child Care Works subsidy rates to ensure that educator compensation can become a family-sustaining wage. 

  • Acknowledge the necessity of accountability.  Appropriately credentialed, fairly compensated ECE educators of the future will be required to use findings from authentic child assessments to modify and improve their teaching practices.

The afternoon included panels of apprentices and their coaches, employers involved in the apprenticeship program, faculty from participating institutions of higher education, and other key stakeholders reflecting on their experiences, challenges, and accomplishments.  While many “nuts and bolts” were covered, several themes emerged:

  • The ECE Apprenticeship program is embedded into ECE associate degree programs that have articulation agreements in place. As a result, apprentices who complete the associate degree in ECE can transfer into BA level ECE programs as juniors. Apprenticeship competencies and course outcomes are aligned with NAEYC early educator competencies across programs and levels, supporting program-to-program agreements. 

  • T.E.A.C.H. scholarship funding allows apprentices to achieve their educational goals without incurring debt.  And, the T.E.A.C.H. requirement that employers increase compensation for scholars is significantly bolstered by the same requirement of registered apprenticeship. Each participating employer (and union, as applicable) negotiates the terms of apprentice wage increases, which are triggered by program milestones and hours of work.  For example, wages may increase as apprentices earn course credits, make progress with on the job competencies, complete specific hours of work, and/or attain their associate degrees.

  • The Philadelphia ECE Apprenticeship program is now regional and includes employers and apprentices from Chester and Delaware counties.  A statewide replication effort is being developed in response to a federal funding opportunity.  This provides an opportunity to fully align apprenticeship to and promote, assess, and fund aspects of it within the existing Keystone STARS quality rating and improvement system.   
  • The ECE Apprenticeship program is complex and expensive – including many partners focused on supporting apprentices in meeting their goals.  The project planning process included all of the partners (apprenticeship intermediary, institution of higher education, coach mentoring provider, quality rating and improvement system) and required give and take within and among each.

Conference participants expressed confidence in the ECE Apprenticeship model, excitement about the possibility of statewide replication, and readiness for clear policies and consistent messages around the importance of ECE and the role of professional educators working within the field in helping young children and their families start strong and grow stronger.

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