Higher Ed Forum

April 14 and 15 saw the 2016 Higher Ed Forum, sponsored by Gateways to Opportunity, in Normal. As in years past it was a time for higher ed faculty and others concerned about the state of young children and their families in Illinois to gather and discuss what they can do to best serve these populations. The theme for this year was social/emotional development.


Dr. Sheila Smith from the National Center for Children in Poverty gave the keynote address Thursday night. Her topic was Preparing Teachers to Promote Young Children’s Optimal Social-Emotional Development. On Friday, Linda Delimata from the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership spoke on Supporting Infant/Early Childhood Professionals through Mental Health Consultation.

Earlier Friday morning participants had their choice of presentations to attend, everything from Teacher Bias in Early Childhood Assessment to Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom to Creating a Virtual Learning Community for Family Child Care Providers and more.

Why am I telling you what happened? No, I am not trying to make you feel guilty that you were unable to attend. I am trying to entice you to go to HERO (Illinois Early Childhood Higher Education Resources Online) at http://ilfacultyresources.org/resources/videos . There you can view videos of all the presentations. What more could you ask?

logoYes, if you have not been on the HERO site before you will have to join, but it is easy and free. After you have watched the presentations you chose, take time to navigate the site to see what other gems it holds.

The state of Illinois, its children and families, and higher education institutions are hurting with the lack of a budget but that does not mean the only subjects we have to discuss are all the negative things happening. While those topics are definitely important, there is also a place for discussions on all we CAN do. The resources available to us online through sites such as HERO give us a multitude of opportunities to do just that.

If you missed the 2016 Higher Ed Forum, be on the lookout for the dates of the next one. It is a great opportunity to meet with other higher education faculty, learn about an important topic in early childhood education, and find out what is happening statewide in our field.

Reggio Emilia Preschools

One of the items on my bucket list has been to visit the Reggio Emilia preschools. This past March I was able to check it off that list. In fact, I was able to visit not only the Reggio Emilia preschools but also the preschools in Pistoia, Italy. Besides the delight of being in Italy, which was itself an adventure, I learned a lot about the early childhood education system in Italy.

lorismalaguizziFor one thing, education birth-six is the responsibility of the municipality. Reggio Emilia was probably taken this to the highest level. Other municipalities have taken this to different levels. The elementary though high school system is run by the national government.

The Reggio Emilia preschools grew out of the desire of the community to avoid control of the country by groups such as the Fascists. They believed that an educated citizenry would not allow such a thing to happen as it did during the first part of the 20th century. Coupled with that desire was the strong women’s movement after WWII that pushed for quality care for children when their mothers worked. The Reggio Emilia community believed, and still does, that education is a right of every citizen and that one becomes a citizen at birth.

The right to be content

The term rights was repeated many times over the four days I spent in Reggio Emilia. It is foundational to their mission and vision. Quotes about rights, many of them by children, are on the walls and stairs of the Loris Malaguizzi International Center. There are also postcards available that have rights voiced by children on them. Here are some examples of quotes about rights:

We have the right to listen to peace.
Rights are found in ideas.
The right to do difficult things.
The right to be content, to laugh, to say something kind.
It should never happen that a child at school does not have the right to speak, because when you speak, you grow in your brain.
The right to go out at night and discover things never seen before.
The right of boys to play with girls and the girls to play with boys.
Children have the right to be protected.
Children have the right to have friends, if not, they do not grow up happy.

All I could think about as I read these quotes over the days I was there was: Out of the mouths of babes! It struck me that not only were the words profound but that the teachers in the preschools had created such an atmosphere that children could make such profound statements, be heard, and have their thoughts recorded and those thoughts given credence by the recording. It made me wonder if, here in the USA, we really give young children the time to think deeply, the opportunity to share deep thoughts, and the respect for those thoughts once voiced. I worry that we are so focused on specific goals (think standards!) that we miss those times when we could hear, record, and value the wisdom of our youngest citizens.

That is certainly something for us to consider! What to do you think?

There are other aspects of my trip that I will share in future blogs, particularly their use of light and aesthetics. If you have any questions or suggestions for the focus of such future blog postings, let me know. As always, this blog is for you, your institution, and your students so that the field of early childhood in Illinois can be the strongest possible.

The Grim Facts: Support of Early Childhood Education in Illinois (Guest blogger: Pat Steinhaus)

Over the past several years, the Early Childhood profession has been fraught with competing priorities and contradictory, conflicting assumptions.

Identification of the need and demand
There is an increasing acknowledgement, on the federal level, of the foundational importance of quality early childhood programming to academic success and quality of life. This is evidenced by the increasing number of dollars made available to states for quality early childhood programming and by the increasing number of reports such as Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, published in 2015 by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) which discuss the critical need for well prepared early childhood professionals.

The IOM Report, for example, recommends that the Early Childhood Workforce be better prepared not just for the 3-5 year old population, but for the 0-3 population as well.

Excelerate Final LogoThe State of Illinois acknowledges this need and recommendation through its implementation of ExceleRate which rewards child care centers with a higher per child reimbursement rate for program staff with higher levels of credentials.

For early childhood teachers working in Illinois public schools, the state has developed and put into place revised standards for teacher preparation programs which are aligned with the Common Core, New Generation Science and Revised Social Studies discipline specific standards, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Standards. Early Childhood teacher preparation programs must also align with the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards (ITPS) and become entitled institutions with Illinois the Gateways Credentialing system by 2017, adding another set of standards for alignment. The state also requires programs to include an emphasis on the teaching of children with special needs, children who are learning English, the preparation of the 0-3 workforce and on content area literacy/reading.

There is also a nationwide effort to improve the quality of the teaching force, and accountability for that quality through increased candidate assessment, including performance assessment of candidates, the documentation of and accountability for practice in the field, post-graduation.

RTTThese all represent important initiatives targeted at raising the quality of the early childhood workforce. The Illinois preschool expansion program supported by the Early Childhood Challenge grant (RttT) is targeted to open 2600 new slots for children possibly requiring up to 130 licensed early childhood teachers.

Identification of competing priorities and faulty assumptions and conflicts
There is also an increasingly strong and valid initiative to cut the cost of higher education. Students leave their degree programs with too much debt. In the Early Childhood Profession, graduates enter low salaried positions making it more difficult for them to pay off the debt.

Yet practitioners living on salaries at or slightly above the poverty level are expected to acquire additional and higher-level credentials without the financial and social supports required to accomplish those goals. While the provision of tuition and fees is helpful, if a center is not provided staffing supports that allow practitioners to leave early to attend class and complete critical field experiences, the expenditure in tuition and fees is money being thrown away. Additionally, higher education institutions need the resources to provide targeted students supports such as individualized advising and state test preparation.

At the same time that the demand for better qualified candidates and increasing and accountability has occurred, the support for higher education has shrunk. In Illinois it has become non-existent.

illinoisbudget1The lack of higher education funding in the State of Illinois has resulted not only in a loss of student financial aid and faculty paying out of pocket for teaching supplies, but in deep structural compromises to the goals more qualified teacher candidates and increased accountability.

As state appropriations shrink, tenure-track faculty are not replaced when they leave or retire. This results in teaching over-loads, in professional courses being taught by faculty outside the discipline, further resulting in a reduction in scholarly activity and professional involvement critical do doing the work identified above as needed.

Experts believe that early childhood has unique and research supported sets of knowledge and pedagogical practices. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that administrators and policy makers do not believe the research. Do they really believe that teachers of children ages 0-8 need knowledge and pedagogy experts? Can they really ignore the brain and learning research, including recent longitudinal studies which document the need for high quality programming for children from birth? Or are we still operating with the pervasive belief that children do not really count until they get to first grade. How can a highly qualified workforce be prepared when candidates are being taught by faculty with no early childhood expertise?

It feels like the climate change argument in the political arena.

Meeting the demand for highly qualified early childhood professionals is now being choked at the university level as well as at the practitioner level.