One of the first research papers I wrote during my pursuit of a degree in Early Childhood Education (ECE) showed the correlation between highly educated teachers to high student outcomes. While I would agree with those who believe that a teacher’s educational level does not always result in an exceptional teacher, I am very excited about the recent conversations among the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), leading to their reversal of their previous decision in 1986 prohibiting Colorado colleges from offering Bachelor’s degrees in ECE. On April 6, 2012, CCHE officially recognized the importance of Bachelor’s degrees in the field of ECE, citing the voice of the community as one of the factors driving the change. Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia told the Denver Post recently, “Whenever we talked with people in that community, we consistently heard that we needed to professionalize this career. This allows us a much bigger impact on having more effective teachers and helping more of our children be successful when they reach kindergarten,” (Anthony Cotton, Denver Post 4/6/12).
In our work at Clayton Early Learning, this decision is of particular benefit as it will create opportunities for teachers to meet the federal Head Start regulation, which requires 50% of ECE teachers to obtain Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education by 2013. In years past, teachers were required to complete degrees in a subject area, such as English, history, or mathematics since it was believed these degrees were more rigorous and provided more content expertise than a degree in ECE (CCHE 4/5/12 Agenda Item III, A). This reversal also benefits teachers pursuing an elementary education (ELED) degree. The CCHE determined that, “… Bachelor’s degrees in ELED would now be more interdisciplinary, innovative, communication rich, technology laden, and assessment driven than previous Elementary Education majors” (CCHE 4/5/12/ Agenda Item III, A p.3).
One of the ways this new decision will benefit Colorado teachers is by making the transfer from two-year institutions to four-year institutions smoother. Problems in the recent past included students credits in ECE not transferring from Community Colleges to four-year institutions. The reversal will allow four-year institutions to accept much more, if not all of the ECE credits, creating, “…a more seamless revision of the statewide articulation agreement in early childhood teacher education (CCHE, 4/5/12, Agenda Item III, A, p. 5). Interestingly, according to the Lt. Governor’s Head Start State Collaboration Director, only 12% of ECE teachers in Colorado currently hold a Bachelor’s degree in ECE and 20% hold a Bachelor’s degree in a related field (CCHE, 4/5/12, Agenda Item III, A, p. 6).
After following this story and reflecting on the outcome for Colorado and the field of Early Childhood Education, I am convinced that through ongoing discussions and our continued push to advocate for our rightful place as professionals in education, there is power to change for the better the course of ECE. As we continue the day to day work with the young children and families we serve, we should be proud of our role in their lives. Like so many rights we hold today, let us celebrate this victory, knowing that it did not come quickly or easily, but that we now are empowered to hold the credentials so necessary in our work.