Illinois Addresses Need for Early Childhood Care Educators Through Flexible, Learner-Centered Pathways

The Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development announced the release of results of the state’s work to develop a competency-based curriculum and credentialing process for early childhood educators (ECE) and funded by the Illinois Preschool Development Grant B-5. The report, titled Gateway to Opportunity Infant-Toddler Credential Competency Project, was developed in partnership with the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) and the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA). It shows that 98% of all higher education institutions in the state have aligned their early childhood coursework and programs with competencies, creating flexible pathways to prepare ECEs to deliver quality early learning experiences funded by the Preschool Development Grant Birth to Five.

“Providing high-quality early childhood learning is essential for helping all children thrive in school and in life,” said Dr. Jamilah R. Jordan, Executive Director from the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development. “The shift to competencies through the creation of the Infant-Toddler Credential helps Illinois’ early childhood educators have the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver the learning and development programs that improve outcomes for Illinois’ youngest learners.”

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The project comes at a time when the need for well-prepared early childhood teachers is expected to grow. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of preschool teachers is projected to grow 18% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The Infant-Toddler Credential teaches ECEs the core skills needed to enhance learning outcomes for Illinois’ youngest students. The curriculum is designed to increase access to early childhood credentials for Illinois’ highly diverse existing early childhood workforce, which often have not attained a credential. In Illinois, Gateways Registry data show 38% of infant/toddler teachers have no degree while 23% of preschool teachers have no degree. Twenty-eight percent of infant/toddler teachers have an Associate’s Degree and 29% have a Bachelor’s Degree compared to 23% with an Associates and 42% with a Bachelor’s Degree for preschool teachers. (2020, Illinois’ Early Childhood Education Workforce). The credential helps increase the workforce size by helping both new learners while growing the talent pipeline.

“The potential for competency-based education (CBE) is clear,” said Joni Scritchlow, Senior Program Director from Gateways to Opportunity. “In addition to addressing the national teacher shortage, barriers exist on the path to graduation for aspiring educators, especially adult learners who work or have children of their own. CBE can help remove these obstacles, making it easier for adult learners from diverse, lower-income, or rural backgrounds to earn high-quality credentials, which positively impacts children in those communities”.

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The project is rooted in competency-based education (CBE), which focuses on student learning and the application of that learning—what they know and can do—rather than time spent in class. The Infant-Toddler Credential leverages a modular and stackable approach to increase access to learning for current and aspiring ECEs, helping them gain credentials and degrees more efficiently and in a way that puts the learner first. Learners are able to demonstrate their existing mastery of a competency, helping them move through the competency modules at a pace that recognizes their prior experience and existing skills and knowledge.

C-BEN worked closely with the participating organizations to develop 54 competency modules, which included curriculum resources and assessments to be shared across Illinois institutions. The assessments ask ECEs to put their knowledge to real-world use, which will take them much further when working in the classroom. The modules are ready to be piloted in 2022 at eight Illinois institutions- Chicago State University, Erikson Institute, Roosevelt UniversityCollege of Lake CountySouthwestern Illinois CollegeNational Louis UniversityNorthern Illinois University and Heartland Community College.

“This is about creating new pathways and access to become a highly qualified early childhood educator—ensuring that all children have access to the education they deserve,” stated Dr. Charla Long, President of C-BEN. “Illinois is a leader in the statewide application of competency-based education to address a clear workforce need. We are excited to continue to support this initiative which can be a model for early childhood education across the nation.”

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