To help more early childhood workers climb up the educational ladder, a coalition of agencies and advocates is developing a sequence of credentials that spans entry-level care givers and teachers with advanced academic degrees. The idea is to create a continuum of courses that will count toward the next credential.

“There is a need for more certified teachers,” says Karen Bruning from the Illinois Network of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies. “We want to see how we can get people through these steps and towards that goal.”

Currently many early childhood staffers pursue a two-year course of studies that yields an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. This route is heavy on child development, but light on academic courses such as English and math that would count toward a bachelor’s degree.

“People end up duplicating courses or taking courses they don’t need,” Bruning explains. “Part of what we are doing is developing common core coursework that will be taught at the two- and four-year level and be easily transferable.”

The Illinois Early Childhood Career Lattice will spell out the knowledge and skills needed for each of five credentials, from basic care givers (such as women who provide home day care) to the top, a master’s degree.

Each level would cover child growth and development; health, safety and nutrition; family and community relationships; child observation and assessments; curriculum development; learning environments; and personal and professional development.

Taking the lead in the project, the Illinois Network is working with 50 representatives from early childhood programs, advocacy groups, state agencies, colleges and universities to develop a core curriculum for each credential and make sure each is recognized by the state.

“We are also developing a career advisors component,” Bruning says. “They would assist people who want to move up in the profession by doing things like making sure they are taking the right classes.”

The group is also exploring scholarships to give people incentives to move up the career lattice. “We’re going to have to get people to buy into it. People are always interested in ‘What’s in it for me?'” says Bruning.

The work is supported by a $750,000 two-year grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

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