Louisiana Hopes New Early-Childhood Credential Will Professionalize Workforce
Louisiana is introducing a new credential for early-childhood educators in the hopes of making the workforce more professional.
Starting in 2019, all lead early-childhood teachers will be required to have a state-developed Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate, or be working toward one.
The decision to require this new certificate came about after a law was passed in 2012 requiring the state to unify all publicly funded child care. A unified rating system was at the center of this requirement.
While this unified system was being piloted, state officials fanned out across the state to observe operations at child-care centers, Head Start programs and pre-K classrooms. They were paying close attention to the interactions between children and staff members as well as to the instruction the children were receiving.
"What we found were some pretty stark disparities in terms of teacher preparation," said Jenna Conway, the assistant superintendent of early childhood for the Louisiana Department of Education.
Teachers with less preparation were consistently scoring lower when it came to the quality of their instruction.
Currently, the state sets the bar pretty low when it comes to who can teach children in child-care centers or preschools outside of Head Start, which has its own federal standards, and pre-K classrooms, which require teachers to have a bachelor's degree and a teaching credential.
"Before we created the ancillary certificate, all you had to be to be a child-care teacher was to be 18 years of age," said Conway. "You didn't even need a high school degree."
The state worked with providers and the preparation community to develop a credential to help improve instruction. It builds upon the national Child Development Associate, or CDA credential, which is issued by the Council for Professional Recognition. To earn a CDA credential, a teacher needs 120 hours of formal early-childhood education training and 480 hours of professional work experience with young children. Louisiana's new credential requires all of that plus what the state calls "applied practice," which includes classroom observation time, mentoring and coaching, and practice teaching.
"We felt that a CDA alone without opportunities to practice, without opportunities for mentoring and coaching, without any connection to the local community wouldn't really assure that child-care teachers would be prepared to be effective," said Conway.
Louisiana's ancillary certificate helps a teacher to earn the national credential and sets standards for preparation programs across the state. Programs offering the new credential must be part of the state's community network of providers, have a coherent program design, and offer applied practice opportunities for teachers.
State Support for the New Credential
To help teachers earn the new credential, the state is providing $5 million in scholarships for training, and there is no out-of-pocket fee to obtain the credential.
The state is also providing funding for training programs throughout the state. Currently, there are more than 20 training programs in Louisiana, and the state plans to develop an online program as well.
So far, about 5,000 early-childhood educators have already earned a certificate because they hold a bachelor's degree, an associate degree in early childhood, or a CDA credential.
Conway didn't have a hard figure on the number of early-childhood educators working without any training but estimated it to be in the thousands. Due to the profession's high turnover rate, she estimated that in any given year 1,000 to 1,500 teachers will need to earn the new credential.
In addition to improving instruction, state leaders expect the new credential to give early-childhood educators a big boost in confidence.
"Teachers get really excited when they see those certificates that come from the Department of Ed, and they call themselves teachers, not workers, teachers, not babysitters," said Conway.
Early-childhood educators who receive the new credential and stay in the field will also be eligible for a refundable tax credit of more than $3,000 annually.
"It's our hope that we'll have better prepared teachers, higher-quality instruction, and less turnover of quality teachers by 2025," said Conway.
Image by Getty
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