It’s not just Massachusetts preschool programs that are growing and improving. There’s also exciting growth in the higher education programs that train and prepare early educators.
In Massachusetts, it’s clear that these two educational systems — preschool and higher education —should develop in concert with each other, so that early educators are always learning the newest concepts and strategies for teaching young children.
Some of the seeds for this growth were planted when UMass Boston was asked to develop an accessible, affordable way to train early educators, according to UMass Boston’s Anne Douglass, an early childhood education professor and the program director of the Bachelor’s and Post Master’s Certificate Programs in Early Education and Care.
Earlier this year, Douglass made the case for more higher education opportunities to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8. The UMass Boston News reports:
“Douglass underscored the many gaps between what the early care and education field (ECE) needs and what currently exists in higher education. As states have increased requirements for early educators to have college degrees, the lack of sufficient higher education programs — and appropriately qualified faculty to teach in those programs — has become pressingly evident.”
UMass Boston’s Early Education Programs
“One thing I love about UMass Boston, it’s willing to innovate and try to do things differently,” Douglass said in a recent interview. The school launched its bachelor’s program in early education in 2009, starting with 15 students and growing to 300. This diverse group is mostly students of color, many of whom speak several languages. And many are also the first in their families to attend college.
In 2012, the school opened the doors of its Post Master’s Certificate Program in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice. Funding came from the Department of Early Education and Care’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant.
The 12-credit program offers “an advanced leadership pathway for experienced educators in the early education and care field.” It fills a huge gap in advanced preparation for educators who specialize in the zero-to-5 age range, Douglass says.
In September, at UMass Boston’s second annual Early Education Leadership Forum, Melody Lack, a master’s program graduate, told the UMass Boston News, “I learned that if I really want to take part in bringing about change in the field of education, I have to transfer the same passion I have in my classroom to rooms in the State House, among legislators and policy makers.”
The UMass Boston News also reports that Douglass highlighted three of the program’s successes: “First, the program has supported educators’ intellectual curiosity, lifelong learning, and created a pathway to doctoral study. Second, the program has increased educators’ knowledge of research that they then applied to improve their professional practice. Third, this program has promoted educators’ development as leaders, and increased their capacity to make a difference in our field.”
UMass is studying the outcomes for its first cohort of master’s graduates, and among the initial findings is that some students have a new level of knowledge about the science of early learning. And networking has enabled other graduates to contribute on a broader scale by serving on statewide committees and advising on QRIS, the state’s quality improvement program.
A New Program
As the field of early education emerges, new jobs will emerge, Douglass explains, saying her program expects to launch a new PhD program in early education and care in 2016.
“We’re going to start small and get it right,” Douglass says, anticipating that the PhD program will start with five students and grow to 10.
To make the program affordable, tuition and fees will be covered, and all students will work as research assistants and receive graduate fellowships. Douglass says UMass will also look at letting students work part time, which means scheduling classes and research project work at times that accommodate students’ jobs. The underlying goal is to make sure that the program is financially feasible for a diverse workforce.
“‘Experienced teachers often do not have opportunities to learn,’” Douglass told the Institute of Medicine, quoting a student in her program. “We have an opportunity to change this, and we should.”