High-quality early learning requires a high-quality workforce with specialized knowledge and skills. State boards of education play a distinct role in developing a well-qualified early learning workforce as they set requirements for core early learning standards, advance workforce credentialing and preparation, and improve professional development opportunities. NASBE has two professional learning opportunities for state boards of education looking to deepen their early learning expertise.
State education agencies (SEAs) and state boards of education can use their policy levers to investigate and influence early education workforce quality in four areas: qualifications and licensure, preparation programs, professional development, and compensation. In addition, they can leverage provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and federal COVID recovery funds to advance changes in their states. NASBE established the ECE State Network in 2017 with support from the Foundation for Child Development and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
State boards of education from New York, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Mississippi, Washington, Delaware, Illinois, and Guam were tasked with developing, revising, and adopting policies to support the ECE system and its workforce. They made tremendous progress and showcased state boards’ key role in leading initiatives to advance ECE.
The Illinois State Board of Education commissioned a research project on ECE licensure and teacher shortage issues after joining NASBE’s ECE network. The project laid the groundwork for solving a teacher shortage problem that preexisted COVID-19. Findings were presented to the state board, and the board is reexamining its licensure types to determine whether it might create a permanent alternative pathway for ECE teachers to become state certified. The project supported the convening of representatives from across Illinois government, including the state board, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Illinois Community College Board.
Michigan’s state board approved a birth-kindergarten teacher license. Over its four years of working with NASBE, Michigan changed its ECE teacher licensure structure, replacing its K-6 license with two narrow-band licenses that specify the knowledge and skills the workforce needs for early childhood and elementary teaching. The Michigan state board, working closely with the Michigan Department of Education, led the work.
New York developed “Resource Guides for School Success in Early Learning: The Third Grade Early Learning Standards.” This document was reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents. The guides provide reference tool by teachers, specialists, and administrators responsible for designing programs for third-grade students, and strengthen PreK-3 grade alignment. New York also provided professional learning events to support teachers’ career development. The learning sessions are posted on the New York State Education Department’s Office of Early Learning’s website.
The Guam Board of Education developed guidance for early childhood educators on social and emotional learning (SEL) and supportive policy to help young children and their families adjust to online, hard-copy curriculum and face-to-face models of instruction during the pandemic. The project included training of Guam board members and the island’s Early Childhood Education Planning Committee to deepen their understanding of SEL and to craft policy to address the needs of young children. The board worked with the superintendent of education and appointed an ECE task force to draft an SEL policy, which was approved by the board in 2020.
The ECE Workgroup allows state board members to deepen their knowledge of early education issues and learn how they can best-support students’ early success. In 2022, NASBE has formed the Early Literacy Work Group so that state board members and staff can learn from national experts about early-literacy trends and research and from other states that have employed effective policies and practices to increase young children’s reading success.
Research demonstrates that students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to not finish high school. Third grade marks an important turning point, when the focus shifts from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. During this transition, students spend less time learning new reading skills and are instead learning new content and concepts that the reading conveys. However, the most recent NAEP score in 2019 revealed that the percentage of fourth-grade public school students performing at or above the NAEP Proficient level in reading was 34 percent nationally, which was below the levels in the 2017 report. The declining reading achievement has caused state policymakers and practitioners to strengthen their engagement on the early literacy issue. In recognition of this importance, NASBE has formed an Early Literacy Workgroup to promote learning and action among state boards. The work group will cover a range of content and policy knowledge about early literacy for children across early childhood and elementary grades, including, but not limited to the following: