In Hartford, Connecticut, a Breakthrough for Early Childhood Educators

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The City of Hartford, Connecticut, is taking the lead in supporting its early childhood workforce by partnering with the local workforce development board to determine the needs of early childhood educators.

While many cities across the nation have made great strides in expanding their early childhood services and programs, there has been less focus on the early childhood workforce, as Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin pointed out at a press conference announcing the partnership with Capitol Workforce Partners at the end of last month.

“There has been far too little discussion about early childhood educators, and the training, support and compensation that makes for successful early childhood educators,” Bronin said. “Strong early childhood educators lead to good early childhood education.”

Hartford is one of five cities in the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ (YEF Institute) early childhood workforce technical assistance cohort.

In the initial phase of the partnership, the city’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation jointly released a report with Capitol Workforce Partners about the local early childhood workforce. Over the next several months, they will conduct a survey with early childhood educators and early childhood directors to collect important data about the local childhood workforce. This includes information such as the economic insecurity faced by members of this workforce and their exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The city plans to release analysis of the data in April.

Above: Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and NLC’s Early Childhood Success Program Director Tonja Rucker speak on early childhood workforce in Hartford, CT.

At the National League of Cities, we know that early childhood education is closely connected to workforce development. Quality early learning experiences develop the workforce of tomorrow by giving young children foundational cognitive and developmental skills. A robust, affordable and accessible early care and education system also supports the current workforce. Parents are more productive and reliable employees when they know their children are safe and well-cared for in a quality early learning setting.

Perhaps no factor influences the quality of early learning more than the educators who teach and care for young children. This is why city leaders who care about workforce development should invest in education, training and supports for their local early childhood workforce.

“We know early childhood success is a key to a vibrant thriving city,” Tonja Rucker, program director for early childhood success at NLC’s YEF Institute, said at the Hartford press conference. “But we must take a closer look at the quality and supports needed for the early childhood workforce. The preparations and supports the City of Hartford is bringing forward is truly an innovative model for others.”

To support the development of the current and future early childhood workforce, two other cities — Orlando, Florida and Fort Worth, Texas — have forged innovative partnerships with their local workforce development boards in support of their early childhood workforces.

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In Orlando, the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County works with CareerSource Central Florida to fill a gap in the preparation of their early childhood workforce. A 2014 survey of the infant/toddler workforce in Orange County found that 50 percent of the teachers employed for less than a year had not completed the Florida state-mandated Child Care Training. The CareerSource program helps improve the quality of child care by offering the state-mandated Child Care Training in a face-to-face instruction format and provides coaching and classroom mentoring to young adults who are beginning careers as early childhood educators. Many participants in the program have continued on their career paths to earn Infant/Toddler Career Development Associate (CDA) credentials.

The Early Learning Alliance (ELA) in Fort Worth is a collaborative partnership including more than 50 organizations and individuals working together to ensure that young children in Tarrant County thrive. The local workforce development board, Workforce Solutions of Tarrant County, is an active partner in this early childhood collaborative. Workforce Solutions of Tarrant County understands that high-quality child care helps build the future workforce and that appropriately trained educators are key to this.

Workforce Solutions of Tarrant County, in partnership with the ELA and the Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System, created an online source where early childhood professionals can track their credentials, professional development and work experience in the free platform. This online system provides step-by-step instructions to early childhood professionals on obtaining higher-level credentials and how to qualify for financial incentives offered for achieving these different levels.

Additionally, as Workforce Solutions Tarrant County recruits professionals to use the online system, it is also launching a public-private partnership to improve the quality of classroom instruction. Early childhood educators in child care, Head Start, Early Head Start and Independent School District classrooms will receive coaching and mentoring using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) tool. This initiative will connect early learning classrooms to one common, evidence-based tool and allow educators to be assessed by evaluators from the Southern Methodist University Center on Research & Evaluation.

Programs and policies supporting the early childhood workforce help city leaders foster local workforce development. As city leaders undertake this important work, they should turn to their local workforce development boards as key partners in their efforts.

To learn more about these programs, listen to NLC’s recent webinar, Partnering with Workforce Development to Support the Early Childhood Workforce. To learn more about NLC’s work with city leaders to support the early childhood workforce, please visit our website.

Alana_ready.jpgAbout the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Senior Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.