Voices from the Field

“It turns out that teaching young children is complicated!”

Interview with Council for Professional Recognition CEO Valora Washington

Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Steven: Could you talk a little bit about how you began your career?

Valora: I started out in anthropology, and in my junior year of college I had the chance to spend the summer in West Africa doing some field work. That was so exciting, but I found that when I was there, I was just really interested in watching the children — children everywhere! They were so competent. They were so skilled. They were so woven into the family and community life. These children — even if they were gathering sticks, or whatever they were doing — they were important. What they were doing mattered. I saw how skilled they were, and of course, many of these children were simultaneously learning 2, 3, or 4 languages. Oftentimes when I’d go in villages, I’d have to find young people to be the interpreters because they were all learning English in school. I was just so amazed by the children, and that’s how I decided to go into child development. I entered a doctoral program, and as they say, the rest is history.

Steven: Why do you think the President’s proposal to provide high-quality preschool for all four-year-olds is important to our country, and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities?

Valora: The reason I think it’s important is because it’s not just an isolated one thing he’s doing. It’s part of series of very important initiatives that are really upgrading the quality of life for young learners in our country. That’s the main reason why it’s so important, because it’s not just a stand-alone initiative, and that’s it. It’s part of a big package in a big picture of a number of things across HSS and ED that we’re trying to do for young children, and I think that’s what makes it important. I think trying to really engage states to think about quality. We know from the NIEER reports that come out every year that there is so much work that still needs to be done at the local and state levels to improve both access and quality. I think that this is a major effort that is going to push that bar. Also, four-year-olds have been somewhat pushed off into a number of disconnected programs, so it really matters if you walked into a Head Start, family childcare, public school , or community-based programs. I think that this initiative has the potential to bring some coherence around what states are doing with that age group.

Steven: What do you see as the role of the Council for Professional Recognition in improving the quality of early learning in our country?

Valora: I think that what we know, is that if there’s one place 8 million people are teaching young children today, we know that way too many of them have had very little opportunity to learn, either in an academic sense or in guided practice in what they’re doing with young children. I think what the Council has been doing for a long time — and we significantly upgraded the professional development experience — is the first step that many early educators continue to take. While we really are celebrating and encouraging people to enter into the profession from a lot of different places, for many of them, the CDA is still place where they are introduced to the field in a formal way, through the competency standards, and through the kind of observations and experiences that they will have in their work life because it is a comprehensive assessment. So, quality really matters in that. The first challenge for quality is recruiting the kinds of people that we really want to work with young children, not just people who show up because they’re free of tuberculosis and need a job. I think the CDA introduces people to the profession in a comprehensive fit and really helps with that introduction to recruitment. I think also, it helps in terms of retention and retaining quality people because you also know that’s another problem. What we know from some of our workforce data from many of our partners is their staffs who have CDAs tend to stay in the workplace rather than leave after a couple of years.

So, the quality really matters in terms of introducing people to the work, that it is a professional work, and then retaining them and helping them grow in the work. I think quality really matters to us; that’s why we’ve spent three years creating the CDA. Our whole mission is really upgrading and recognizing the workforce. That’s what we’ve been doing, that’s our whole mission, that’s all we do, and it matters a lot to us that early educators get the respect they deserve, that they get recognized for the skills that they have, that they even understand what the competency are, and that they can move forward in the profession. We say that the CDA is the best first step, but we don’t want it to be the last step. There are so many examples of people with CDA who go on and get other degrees, which is what we encourage people to do. There are lots of stories of people who really begin their careers with a CDA. Quality really matters because of how you bring people in. If you bring people into the field thinking this is a job and that it doesn’t really matter, they either leave or continue with tacit knowledge. We really need people to understand that what they do needs a theoretical background, but that they also need practical experience about how you set up a classroom, how you get results for children, how you interact with children, how you interact with their parents, and how you do assessments. It turns out that teaching young children is complicated! I think a lot of people think that it’s just a job, but it’s turning out that it requires a lot of very specific skills.


Indian Professional Development Program For Tribal Consultation

March 12, 2014

The Office of Indian Education (OIE) is seeking tribal leader input on the Indian Professional Development (PD) program, one of three discretionary grant programs within the Office of Indian Education at the US Department of Education (ED). The purpose of this blog is to give tribal leaders an opportunity to comment on any aspect of this grant program including the topics listed below.

The seven topics include:

1. Job Placement
2. Area of Need
3. Recruitment and Retention of Participants
4. Induction Services
5. Costs of Training Programs
6. Types of Participants
7. Definition of Indian Organization

For each topic there is a brief overview and then a series of sample questions for which you may provide comments and/or check the appropriate box for your answer. The downloadable document is located on the STEP website located at this Indian Professional Development form link.

You have the option of submitting responses as: 1) blog comments below; 2) printing out the Indian Professional Development document, filling it out and faxing it back to OIE at: 202-205-0606; or 3) emailing the completed document to OIE at: IndianDiscretionaryConsultation@ed.gov. You are not limited to these topic areas in providing comments.

This blog is a moderated site meaning that all comments will be reviewed before they are posted. We intend to post all responsive submissions on a timely basis. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate. Please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements, as we will delete them before we post your comments. Additionally, to protect your privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses in the body of your comments. For more information, please be sure to read the “comments policy.”

We invite your input on the sample questions provided on the document, and on any other issues that you believe the Department should consider in improving the program. Please understand that posts must be related to the PD program and should be as specific as possible. Any comments posted should be limited to 1,000 charaters. All opinions, ideas, suggestions, and comments are considered informal input and ED will not respond to any posts. If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. We look forward to receiving your ideas and suggestions. However, the input you provide in these posts may or may not be reflected in any final PD program changes or in other policies.

o Department of Education’s linking policy
o Department of Education’s disclaimer of endorsement

Again, thank you for your interest to support American Indian and Alaska Native education. We look forward to hearing from you.

Grant Money at ED

One of the key responsibilities and roles that the Department of Education does hold is to provide funding for states, districts, schools, and other entities (non-profits, etc) to support educational initiatives and further education reform. We do have many different grant programs out there, especially within OESE, and I know we’ve gotten inquiries on who is eligible for these grants, and how one might apply.

So, here are some resources that are available online to assist you in identifying programs for which you may be eligible to apply:

  • Grantmaking at ED provides a general overview of the grant process at the Department.
  • Program web pages list all programs organized by subject, title, who’s eligible to apply, and more.
  • Guide to Education Programs enables users to search programs by those same criteria—subject, title, who’s eligible to apply, CFDA number, and more.
  • Discretionary Grant Applications lists the application packages that are currently available.
  • Forecast of Funding Opportunities for ED Discretionary Grant Programs forecasts when grant competitions are expected to open.  These are the dates to begin watching for the application materials.  Contact information for each grant is also provided.
  • Grants.gov is a source to find and apply for federal government grants. There are over 1,000 grant programs offered by all federal grant making agencies.
  • The online Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance provides access to a database of all federal programs available to state and local governments (including the District of Columbia); federally-recognized Indian tribal governments; territories (and possessions) of the United States; domestic public, quasi-public, and private profit and nonprofit organizations and institutions; specialized groups; and individuals.

In addition, the EDInfo electronic newsletter provides 1-2 email messages a week describing federal teaching and learning resources and Department funding opportunities. Click here to sign up for the listserv.

As you may know, most of the Department’s grants are made to state and local educational agencies.  So, if you have a program that you think would be a great addition to your state or local district, you may think about bringing your suggestion to state and local school officials.

Answering Your Frequently Asked Questions

One of the things I plan to do on this site is to regularly answer some of the most frequently asked questions that come through to our office, either by mail or email. There’s so much information out there, and I think it’s helpful for OESE to be able to provide some answers to questions that still may not be so clear.

So, here’s the first question I’m going to tackle. We’ve heard recently from a lot of folks who are wondering about the state of funding for education in the U.S. They have asked us specifically, “What is the Department doing to fund schools across the country?”

We at the Department understand the strain the current economic situation has placed on state and local education budgets and the need for additional funding to support important reforms. Although education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States, and the Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is a little under 9 percent, the Department is working hard to help states fund education.

You’ve all heard about the stimulus package signed into law last year by President Barack Obama, theAmerican Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which included approximately $100 billion to support education. Under ARRA, we had the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) program, a new one-time appropriation of $53.6 billion. Of the amount appropriated, the U. S. Department of Education awarded governors approximately $48.6 billion by formula under the SFSF program in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms to benefit students from early learning through post-secondary education. ARRA also made available IDEA and Title 1 funds. As a superintendent in Pomona before coming to DC, I know that ARRA funds last year helped our district tremendously, saving a number of education jobs.

More recently, in August 2010, Congress passed and the President signed legislation providing essential resources to assist local school districts in saving or creating education jobs during the 2010-2011 school year. This new Education Jobs Fund program will go a long way in protecting these jobs and ensuring that America’s students are prepared to succeed in college and careers. This $10 billion program will enable schools to keep an estimated 160,000 or more education jobs. The Education Jobs Fund requires that school districts use the funds to pay the salaries and benefits of teachers, school administrators, and other essential staff. You can find out projected allocations to states at http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/edjobsfund-allocations.pdf.

I hope this provides some clarity on what the Department is doing to support states and districts during these difficult economic times.

Dr. Meléndez