April 1, 2015, was not a Fool’s Day!

by Teri Talan

April 10, 2015

Editor’s Note: Teri Talan, the author of this blog post, participated in an event April 15-16 at the White House, where she met with the White House Domestic Policy staff as part of Early Care and Education Consortium’s (ECEC) InvestInUs commitment. She was on a panel sharing the implications of the new report from the Institute of Medicine, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation

Pages from BirthtoEight_brief
April 1 shall be memorialized in the minds of many of us as a benchmark day for the profession of early childhood education. And I use profession with proud intent. This was the day that the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science released its comprehensive and visionary report: Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. The authors of the report examined the science of early learning and child development to answer a pivotal question: What do lead educators need to know and be able to do to be effective in their work with children, birth through age eight?

The recommendation getting lots of attention is that all lead teachers of children from birth to age eight have a bachelor’s degree in early child education or in a closely related field. The esteemed panel of experts responsible for the report concluded it is time to stop debating whether infant, toddler, and preschool teachers need a BA degree or specialized training. They need both.


A major take-away from this report is that qualification-silos based on sector or funding stream are not supported by science and do not serve the best interests of children. All young children, whether enrolled in schools, centers, or home-based programs, deserve access to high quality early learning opportunities and the workforce determines the quality of that experience.

It is important to note that the minimum requirement of a BA with specialized knowledge and skills in early childhood education is not just for lead teachers. The report uses the term lead educator which is defined to also include principals, center and program directors, and family child care providers. While a principal is likely to have a graduate degree, most principals do not have the requisite knowledge in early learning and development. The qualifications of center and program directors, as well as family child care providers, tend to be much lower than that of principals. Currently, only four states require a degree for the director of a licensed child care center; only one of these states requires a minimum of a BA. No state requires a degree for family child care providers.

The degree in early childhood/child development is only part of the equation. Leadership and management competencies are also essential. While the report highlights that effective leaders require competency in instructional leadership and program administration, only a handful of states currently require any college coursework in program administration prior to assuming the responsibilities of center director. No state requires college coursework in family child care specific competencies.


The implications of the science of early learning are clear; children birth to age eight need well-prepared lead teachers across all early childhood settings, supported by well-prepared and effective program leaders. Now is the time to get down to business and figure out how to accomplish this goal given the diverse ways in which early learning and development services are delivered and funded. It won’t be quick or easy but local, state, and federal policymakers; accrediting bodies; philanthropic foundations; large providers of early care and education services; and higher education entities will all need to pull together to achieve the audacious vision laid out by this report.

Learn more about the report by watching the public briefing video or visiting the Institute of Medicine’s website.

Dr. Teri Talan is Director of Policy Initiatives at the McCormick Center and Professor of Early Childhood Education at National Louis University. She promotes action by state and national policymakers on early childhood workforce and program administration issues.

4 Responses to “April 1, 2015, was not a Fool’s Day!”

  1. Claudia Quigg says:

    Teri, thank you for your concise and compelling summary of this very complex report, and for all you are doing for young children and families! Claudia Quigg

  2. Teri Talan says:

    Claudia, We are becoming a true profession! I am excited that the efforts of the Illinois Professional Development Advisory Council and the Illinois Early Learning Council are coming to fruition. All those who believe in the critical work of early educators are validated by this report.

  3. Terri Smith says:

    Teri, thank you for you report. I do not agree that everyone needs a BA in child care. I have had a family child care for 30 years and have been accredited through NAFCC for the last 12 years. At my age 58 I would not go back to get a BA. I have always kept up my education through training and I have a quality home child care. I just wish those in Higher Ed.would realize just how many providers there are that are doing a great job and don’t have a BA.
    It is hard enough to get the respect we deserve as early child hood professionals from parents. but to have those in our field putting us down is really a sad statement for family and group home providers.
    I am all for education but it doesn’t alway come from University on the job experience can’t be beat.

  4. Teri Talan says:

    Terri, I am so glad you made this comment. It gives me an opportunity to clarify. This report, which represents my beliefs as well, deeply values the work of all early childhood practitioners. My blog post addressed only a few of the recommendations. Ongoing professional development is also a critical piece of effective practice. The foundation of a BA grounded in the science of child development is an aspirational goal for all lead educators. This recommendation is aspirational because it will require significant changes in public policy, public financing, and higher education content and delivery before it can be implemented. This report’s recommendations will impact future family child care providers—they will have access to higher education that prepares them to meet the learning and development needs of young children as well as operate thriving small businesses. Finally, they will be respected and compensated as “lead early educators” that choose to operate home-based early childhood programs.