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Shortage of Early Childhood Educators Addressed

Submitted by on March 18, 2019 – 6:59 pm

Carol Landry, director of The Children’s Place at Phillips Academy, Jody Carson, Early Childhood Education professor, Gail Feigenbaum, coordinator of NECC’s Early Childhood Education Program, and Kim Burns, NECC dean of academic innovation and professional development.

There is a shortage of certified early childhood educators in Massachusetts, and Northern Essex Community College is leading the way in addressing this crisis.

In collaboration with the Department of Higher Education (DHE), the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), and nine other Massachusetts community colleges, Northern Essex is leading a consortium to make a college education more accessible to teachers who are working in the field but do not have a college degree.

According to Kim Burns, Northern Essex’s dean of academic innovation and professional development, early childhood educators represent the largest education workforce in the state, but they have the lowest educational attainment.

“There are 70,000 early childhood educators in Massachusetts, but only one-third have a college degree,” says Burns. “The teachers charged with educating our youngest minds are not all equipped with an academic background in childhood development or the science of early learning.”

ECE Faculty Statewide are Driving this Project

In the past three years, Northern Essex has received Performance Incentive Fund grants from the DHE totaling over a half million dollars to develop strategies that will address this issue.

As a result, within the next year, Northern Essex will have created an Early Childhood Director Certificate Program offered in a competency-based-education (CBE) format, meaning classes are online and allow students to move more quickly and receive credit for prior knowledge, such as what they’ve learned on the job. The certificate program will align with the EEC’s certification requirements.

“Teachers who have been working in the field and don’t have a degree will now have access to the college courses that will help them grow their careers,” says Gail Feigenbaum, coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Program at Northern Essex.

In addition, Middlesex, Holyoke, Bunker Hill and MassBay community college faculty will have developed six early childhood education courses for CBE delivery; courses such as Child Growth and Development and Children with Exceptional Learning Needs. Each of these classes will have four to seven competencies that align with professional standards and must be demonstrated in order to receive credit.  Students will receive ongoing and personalized support from faculty and a learning coach.

With the help of the grant, the ​consortium is also looking to create pathways for teachers who want to continue on for a bachelor’s or advanced degree.

“Faculty from ten community colleges are working to align academic programs for ease of transfer,” says Feigenbaum.  “We want to create multiple pathways and greater access to credentials and college degrees.”

To keep costs down, faculty are developing open educational resources, rather than expensive textbooks, meaning students can access high quality course materials free on the Internet.

Collaboration with Employers is Key

Carol Landry, director of The Children’s Place at Phillips Academy in Andover, a practicum site for Northern Essex Early Childhood students, says that finding and retaining qualified teachers is a struggle for all early childhood education providers.

“During the first five years, children are building 90% of their brain development.  Giving young children well-trained and educated teachers is critical,” she explains.

Landry supports all efforts to provide educational opportunities for early childhood teachers, and she has spoken publicly about this issue.

“Having better educated and trained professionals in the classrooms increases the quality of care that Massachusetts child care centers offer our communities. Quality teachers lead to quality programs which lead to accreditation through the National Association of Education of Young Children,” she says.

To learn more about Early Childhood Education programs at NECC, contact Gail Feigenbaum, gfeigenbaum@necc.mass.edu or 978 556-3831.