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Let’s Be Honest: It’s About Sexism, Classism, and Racism


June 12, 2018
Maurice Sykes
New America

To avoid being misinterpreted or perceived as resisting efforts to raise the academic bar for early childhood educators, let me state from the onset that I support efforts to elevate early childhood educators’ competencies prior to entry into the early childhood education (ECE) workforce. And yes, equal pay should be in place for equal work. But if we want to reach this end point, we have to be willing to confront the real barriers blocking attempts to create a well educated, compensated, and diversified workforce.

I designed and operated a program known as “Project Headway” for 15 years. It assisted early childhood educators make headway in their careers by moving from the CDA Credential® to the AA degree and beyond. Its enrollees were similar to those typically referenced in conversations as the “diverse workforce” when discussing early childhood education workforce development.

Yet, contrary to routinely cited  statistics, we boasted 80% workforce retention and graduation rates. Our success can be credited to our not viewing or profiling participants as “first generation, minority, low income females dependent on a monthly wage close to or below the poverty line supporting families” — or by extension, as too tired and too poor to go to night college, which to this day remains the predominant higher education approach for women in the ECE workforce.

Rather than using a lens of pathology, we viewed enrollees as capable, competent, resourceful learners, some of whom, by dint of the birth lottery, had lived in poor neighborhoods, attended inferior schools and, consequently, needed a good practitioner- based ECE higher education program.

Like others whose  blogs  have preceded mine, we recognized that advancing these women’s formal education required attention not only to their academic lives but also to their work and personal lives. But here’s how we differed: We engaged with their plight as an issue of social justice. While we saw increasing their academic preparation as a way of improving their work and personal life circumstances, we, more importantly, saw it as improving their abilities to change the life trajectory of the children they taught.

The time has come to alter the narrative we hold regarding teacher credentialing and teacher compensation that presumes adults’ career advancement is our end goal. To the contrary: our focus should be on improving young children’s schooling and life outcomes.

Every child needs and deserves a highly qualified, highly effective, and highly competent early childhood educator. This is the reason why we should care about early childhood educators’ competencies and compensation.