More than 70 higher education faculty from 15 colleges and universities across Nebraska are meeting in Lincoln today to begin tackling problems within the early childhood field and take steps toward establishing equitable, affordable, and accessible pathways for all early childhood professionals.
Joining faculty are leaders from state and community colleges, public and private universities, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE), and the Nebraska Association for the Education of Young Children (NeAEYC).
The full-day convening, Transforming Early Childhood Preparation With Respect: Opportunities to Challenge Our Problems of Practice, will provide discussion time for attendees to problem-solve how to transform early childhood education preparation to meet the needs of current students and professionals.
“These conversations will allow early childhood faculty and professionals in the field to take the first steps to tackle the critical issues that prevent early childhood educators from demonstrating their competencies, connecting their professional development to credit, and earning degrees and credentials,” said Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, which is hosting the convening.
The need for more qualified early childhood educators is great in Nebraska, where 91% of counties with child care facilities do not have enough available slots to meet the current demand. And demand is high—70% of mothers with infants and toddlers are in the labor force in Nebraska.
Facilitated workshops throughout the day will focus on problems of practice, as identified in a 2021 survey of higher education faculty, and the recommendations of the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission.
The convening also will serve as a first step to launch a new grant in Nebraska funded by the Early Educator Investment Collaborative and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund: Responsive Equitable Systems for Preparing Early Childhood Teachers (RESPECT).
The RESPECT grant is a collaborative effort led by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE), and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, designed to transform Nebraska’s system for preparing early childhood educators and ensuring access to education and certification.
Julia Torquati, a professor in child, youth, and family studies at UNL and principal investigator for the grant, said the RESPECT project’s aims are: 1) to build a competency-based framework that defines common expectations for educator preparation, credentialing, and licensing across all early childhood settings; 2) to collaborate with local communities to ensure the competency-based curriculum and accessible pathways are implemented in ways that are contextually grounded and culturally relevant; and 3) to develop accessible pathways and support mechanisms to ensure all members of Nebraska’s early childhood workforce have equitable opportunities to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and teaching certification.
Sarver said she hopes the grant will help address a severe shortage of qualified teachers in the state.
“Many in the field are not able to pursue a degree or teaching certificate because of socioeconomic, structural, and geographic constraints,” she said. “There are so many barriers to degree completion for professionals in the field and very few options to support them.”