Rhian Evans Allvin is chief executive of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
By Rhian Evans Allvin
A federal court recently dismissed a suit that challenged a new D.C. regulation that requires lead teachers in District child development centers to earn associate degrees and boosts education credentials for other teachers and caregivers.
This is a rare win-win-win.
It is a win for D.C. children, who will benefit from well-prepared early childhood educators. It is a win for parents who will have more confidence that their children are being cared for in an environment focused on their positive growth and development. And it is a win for early childhood educators who will be extending their own education to increase earning potential, opportunities for future jobs and job satisfaction.
The plaintiffs in the suit — backed by the Institute for Justice, a large libertarian law firm — argued that the D.C. regulations were burdensome on caregivers. But the District has worked to ease that burden by providing significant scholarship funding, shifting the timeline for meeting educational requirements and extending waivers that recognize experience and/or hardship.
While the trip to higher-quality care may take a little longer, with this lawsuit dismissal, we should be glad we will reach the destination.
Ages birth to 8 are an unrivaled developmental period, and decades of neuroscience backs that up, including two reports from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. While empathy and nurturing are essential ingredients in the care of young children, the early years are also the time when children are beginning to understand causal inference, control attention and impulses, connect language with mathematics, develop fine and gross motor skills and negotiate relationships with their peers.
These skills and dispositions, which form the foundation for all future learning, can be effectively developed and nurtured in loving, play-based environments — when the educators have acquired the needed knowledge, skills and competencies.
When young children have these opportunities, they are better prepared for kindergarten, graduate from high school at higher rates and are more likely to go on to postsecondary education, own assets and avoid the justice system.
These early years of learning are critical for closing the achievement gap. Quality early-childhood education prepares kids for school and helps make sure they don’t fall behind from the get-go.
Kudos go to the D.C. Council for spending hundreds of millions of dollars helping make access to high-quality early-childhood education a reality. When the D.C. Council invests taxpayer money, it is imperative that it also sets quality standards to ensure that funding is well-spent and children are getting the maximum benefit. These educational requirements help parents find quality care that is right for their children and family.
The child-care system is like the Wild West: Parents are beholden to imperfect options based on geography, availability and cost that render the idea of parental choice a myth. Parents should not have to choose between child care that they can afford and child care that provides a quality experience. The District is solving that problem by setting a floor for the kind of quality parents can expect across the child-care spectrum. At the minimum, parents will know that no matter what program they choose, educators will have a level of education sufficient to nurture their children’s learning.
The teachers in these child development centers also will benefit from the transformation of their profession. Typically, these crucial positions responsible for childhood development pay worse than fast-food restaurants. And these positions are filled disproportionately by low-income women from communities of color. It is time we create equitable opportunities for them to progress in their profession and to treat their profession with the respect it deserves based on the complex, valuable and demanding work they perform.
Increasing standards for early-childhood educators lifts all boats. We get children better prepared for school and life. We get parents having better access to quality care. And we get teachers and caregivers improving their profession and their earning potential. That’s a win-win-win to celebrate.