The first three years of life play a foundational role in healthy brain development and future success in school and in life. The Early Educator Apprenticeship Act, which was introduced in Congress in the spring of 2021, presents an important opportunity for our country to support development during these critical years by rebuilding the early care and education workforce with quality and equity at the center.
In response to this critical moment, Learning Starts At Birth—formerly known as the Birth-to-Three Policy Initiative—released a new brief titled Realizing the Promise of Early Educator Apprenticeships. The publication outlines recommendations for a national system of robust apprenticeship programs that ensure educators receive the high-quality clinical practice and coaching required for the complex task of supporting early brain development.
“Now is the time to make this investment in our child care system to support early childhood educators and provide meaningful opportunities for their professional growth. High-quality apprenticeship programs will lead to higher retention in the profession, improved program quality, equitable access to training and compensation, and increased opportunities for children to reach their full potential,” said Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center.
The publication notes that successful implementation of apprenticeships would require an investment of adequate public resources at the federal level and identifies six considerations for program design and funding. For example, the authors highlight the need to connect apprenticeship programs with compensation reform and opportunities for quality coaching or supervised fieldwork and advisement.
Additionally, the publication recommends that apprenticeship programs are designed to accommodate the existing workforce, including home-based child care providers, who serve the majority of infants and toddlers in the United States, and to invest in overall program-level improvement so that apprentices experience fieldwork in high-quality site placements.
“Compensation levels in the field are currently so low that nearly half of the early childhood educator workforce relies on public assistance,” said Brandy Jones Lawrence, Senior Director of Policy & Partnerships, Learning Starts at Birth, on the topic of compensation reform. “To really transform the early childhood field and retain highly skilled teachers, financial incentives must exist not only while the apprentice is participating in the program, but also upon completion of the program.”
“Research shows that K-12 educator residencies have been highly effective in strengthening school systems by increasing preparedness among teachers, improving retention, and creating greater diversity in the field,” said Courtney Parkerson, Consultant, Learning Starts At Birth. “Apprenticeship programs for early childhood educators that include clinical practice and coaching, combined with coursework and the chance to earn formal credentials—while earning a salary and avoiding costly student loans—would similarly benefit early care and education.”
The Birth-to-Three Policy Initiative changed its name to Learning Starts At Birth in May 2021 to help capture and articulate the program’s core message: a child’s brain grows rapidly between 0-3 years old, making the first 1,000 days of life of critical importance in helping to build the brain architecture that supports everything in life that follows—our learning, our behavior, and even our health.