My colleague Amy O’Leary, director of our Early Education for All Campaign, tells a story that illustrates how far the field of early education and care has come over the past several years.
Amy has been going to meetings of the Boston Alliance for Early Education since she was a preschool director in Boston’s South End neighborhood in the 1990s. “It was originally designed as a support group for directors,” Amy recalls. “The conversation often focused on overflowing toilets and the day-to-day logistical challenges of running a center.”
Much has changed since then, not the least of which came in December 2011 when Massachusetts was named one of only nine states awarded a federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant. Back in 2005, Massachusetts merged its child care and early education agencies to create the nation’s first consolidated Department of Early Education and Care. The same year it established the Early Childhood Educators Scholarship. In 2006, the state created the Universal Pre-Kindergarten grant program to support and sustain quality. Head Start and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an accrediting body, started to phase in bachelor degree requirements for early educators. In 2011, Massachusetts launched an evidence-based Quality Rating and Improvement System, which defines tiers of quality that include teacher education and training, curriculum, and assessment.
With these changes, the conversations have changed, too. At the last meeting Amy attended, directors talked about developmentally appropriate assessment tools and how to support staff to use the results to guide instruction. Wayne Ysaguirre, president and CEO of Associated Early Care and Education, delivered a presentation on the new state-of-the-art early learning center that Associated, along with 13 partner organizations, will build at the Bromley-Heath public housing development in Jamaica Plain to provide early education, social services and health care for young children and their families.
“To be sitting in the same room with the same people and see this dramatic change was amazing,” Amy says. “I felt hopeful and encouraged that all the policy work is having an impact on the ground and on the children.”
Pat Xavier, director of the alliance, calls the process “creating a culture of quality.”
“It was always access, access, access,” Xavier says. “With the shift to quality, it’s a professionalization of the field.”
Lest you think all has changed, Amy offers this: “The toilets are still overflowing.”