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Childcare and preschool are receiving more attention than ever before, as more families have two working parents, and as the positive benefits of high-quality programs become better known and valued. Members of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce stated that it is, "obvious to everybody that early education is the best investment that could be made.”

Childcare providers and preschool teachers give small children from birth to kindergarten the chance of a lifetime to achieve greater success in school and in life, and there are 1.9 million provider/teachers across the nation serving those children on a daily basis.

Families with two working parents are over a barrel because the expense of childcare has risen at twice the rate of inflation since 2009, now representing 10% of the median family income in a majority of states. With the cost of childcare being so high, helping to train childcare providers and preschool teachers to deliver the best teaching possible should be a high-priority goal for educators and policy makers.Butdespite the rising cost of childcare, provider/teachers are paid below a minimum wage.

So let's "start where we can win.”  Employing well-trained teachers to prepare children for kindergarten is the key. Yet less than 30% of our schools of education offer programs in early education. Less than 15% of schools higher education offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in the field. A recent study by the National Council on Teacher Quality noted that only 35% pre-K teacher prep programs required a course in child development. In addition, these same programs generally fail to train future elementary school teachers in explicit, multi-sensory structured literacy instruction methods required by almost half of our students.

Research shows there is an extraordinary, strategic value in training teachers that prepare toddlers and kids before they are part of the public education system with all of its complexity and teacher training issues. Historically, Head Start and owner-operated childcare centers have evolved outside the public schools, which has created many benefits for children and families. But as pre-K and universal pre-K grow more prevalent, all early education may change.

Disadvantaged children get a hand up with good childcare. Longitudinal studies have proven that high-quality early education can produce significant benefits for disadvantaged children. New Jersey's Supreme Court agreed with those studies in its decision in the case of Abbott v. Burke. In the Abbott case, New Jersey was required to equalize education funding between affluent and disadvantaged children on a needs-based approach. The court mandated the state provide "early education, starting at age 3, for all children ‘at risk’ who may be cognitively and socially behind their more advantaged peers upon entering Kindergarten.”

W. Steven Barnett, professor and director of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University, conducted a review of all research on preschool programs and wrote, "well-designed preschool education programs produce long term benefits in school success, including higher test scores, lower rates of grade repetition and special education, and higher education attainment ..." (Barnett is known for studying the long-term impact and cost/benefit analysis of the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs.)

Since teacher training is a key factor in producing a high-quality early education program, there are many questions concerning the education of its provider/teacher workforce and its impact. How much training should a provider/teacher have to implement a well-designed early education program? Elizabeth Rose, in her book The Promise of Preschool, wrote that teachers and childcare providers should ideally have the "ability to integrate pre-academic skills and social skills into children's imaginative play and chosen activities. Moreover, skilled teachers can weave early literacy and math skills, along with crucial social and emotional skills, into a holistic approach to learning.”

Some experts question the impact of a Bachelor of Arts degree requirement might have on the diversity of the provider/teacher workforce, which should favorably compare to the diversity of the children and their families. Only 10 states have any certification requirement beyond a high school diploma. One advantage of lower education requirement is the wide open employment entry gate that results in a diverse workforce. Further, the National Council on Teacher Training stated that a BA didn't adequately prepare a teacher to teach in childcare and preschool. So shouldn't we be more concerned with the competency of a teacher rather than the degrees they hold?

Commentators compare the characteristics of universal preschool as part of the public school system to the independent owner-operated childcare community. Would a shift to more universal pre-k scale down the use of holistic teaching approaches traditionally associated with childcare?  Would all childcare become rigorously academic and assessment-oriented? Would early education forego the children's play that is considered a "crucial component in children's linguistic, social, and cognitive development?”

In 48 critical months, with a well-designed early education program, providers and teachers have an opportunity to build an educational foundation, and thus future, for each young child, whether they come from disadvantaged or from privileged circumstances. We have the opportunity and know-how to train these teachers today, without having to wait for the glacial movement of system reform.

There are advantages to specific training in particular subject areas for the current childcare workforce, when provided at their level of educational attainment. For example, we can help many children become better future readers with play-based and holistic approaches to learning language and literacy. With 40% of the teacher training programs not requiring language development training, there is an incredible upside to making available independent professional learning programs in language and literacy. One that has proven, since 1997, to help providers and teachers improve the reading performance of all their children is BUILDING BLOCKS FOR LITERACY®.

Boon Philanthropy supports training for childcare providers and preschool teachers in research-proven Building Blocks for Literacy®, which is a professional development program created by language Ph.D.’s at the Stern Center for Language and Learning in Burlington, VT.  Building Blocks for Literacy® fosters deep early literacy skills and is proven effective with challenged readers who may even have dyslexia. Thousands of early educators and tens of thousands of young children have benefited from this program. It’s play-based, early literacy and language development content includes shared book reading, vocabulary development, phonological (sound) awareness, and the speech-to-print connection. The training is affordable and accessible, and it significantly improves a provider/teacher's ability to prepare young children for reading success.

For Boon Philanthropy, it makes sense to fund Building Blocks for Literacy®.  It is an advanced, yet practical and realistic, professional learning opportunity for current childcare providers and preschool teachers. We are proud to be helping the Stern Center to train trainers through National Head Start Association conferences around the nation.  Millions of children stand the chance of becoming successful readers.

Henry Sinclair Sherrill
President & Organizer 
Boon Philanthropy