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Sac State to lead statewide effort to improve early childhood educator preparation

$4.5 million grant will fund partnership to better align preschool teacher training programs with state standards and diversify workforce.
Thu Jun 3, 2021

Sacramento State will lead a new partnership in a statewide effort, funded by a $4.5 million grant, to improve preparation for early childhood educators and diversify California’s workforce of preschool teachers.

The partnership aims to improve early childhood education throughout California by more closely aligning with state expectations the skills and competencies taught in preparation programs, and by developing a clearer path to the career through community and four-year colleges.

The project will emphasize training teachers able to work with dual-language learners, who are a significant portion of the state’s preschool-age children, and recruiting a diverse pool of future early childhood educators.

Known as UP-LIFT CA – which stands for Universities and Partners Learning, Innovating, Fostering Equity, Transforming California ECE Degrees – the partnership brings together multiple CSUs and community colleges, state agencies, and early childhood care and education providers. The $4.5 million grant from the Early Educator Investment Collaborative funds the project.

EEIC announced the six national recipients of grants, including Sac State, in a news release on June 3.

“The state is trying to transform early childhood education preparation into a competency-based preparation like what is currently used at the K-12 level,” said Ana Garcia-Nevarez, professor of Child and Adolescent Development at Sac State and statewide coordinator for the partnership. “We haven't done that in the early childhood field.”

For UP-LIFT CA, “Competency-based” programs teach and assess future teachers on state-determined skills with which they are to be proficient when they enter the classroom. Because early childhood educators need only a permit and not a credential or bachelor’s degree, training programs at community and four-year colleges across the state can vary widely and may not align with state expectations.

In addition, Garcia-Nevarez said, state officials have pushed for more early childhood educators to hold four-year degrees.

That has created a need to align programs across California with each other and with state standards. Such alignment is meant to build a more coordinated career path from community colleges to four-year universities for students who wish to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

“Most of our students are coming from (community colleges), and so to have that curriculum alignment in order to have that pathway straight is a big piece of this grant,” Garcia-Nevarez said.

UP-LIFT will address the issue by assessing early childhood education curriculum at participating institutions to determine where it aligns with or diverges from state standards. Participating faculty also will collaborate with local early childhood programs to integrate theory and field-based activity into coursework.

When these reviews are completed, the programs can be adjusted and refined so they include the skills the state desires, strengthen connections between coursework and fieldwork, and are more consistent across institutions.

The project will focus on training early childhood educators who are well equipped to work with dual-language learners. Sixty percent of Californians under 5 come from households in which at least one language other than English is spoken, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reports.

Organizers say the project will improve early childhood educator preparation, which in turn improves early childhood education, often a family’s first foray into the education system.

Each CSU campus – Sacramento, Bakersfield and Pomona – will work with its respective feeder community colleges, which for Sac State are Sacramento City and Cosumnes River colleges, in the Los Rios Community College District.

Research shows that better early childhood education benefits a child throughout his or her school journey, and not just through the usual measures, said Pia Wong, Sac State’s associate dean of Education.

“We’re not just talking about better test scores closing the achievement gap, which is all important, but it’s also about kids who will be engaged civically, and who will understand what their career options are, and who are going to be community leaders,” she said.

Sacramento State offers a concentration in early childhood education within its Child and Adolescent Development program, as well a degree completion program through the College of Continuing Education for working preschool teachers who want to earn their bachelor’s degree. The strength of those programs and their durable partnerships with local community colleges are primary reasons the University was selected to lead the project, Garcia-Nevarez and Wong said.

JaNay Brown-Wood, an assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Development who is Sac State’s project coordinator, said she hopes the renewed focus on early childhood education leads to greater appreciation of the field.

“It seems like it’s just now dawned on people how important our field is, and that’s especially been the case with a pandemic,” Brown-Wood said. “All of a sudden, you didn’t have your preschool to send your child to, and you realize how much of a role it played in helping you to be able to be a working parent.

“Making sure we have effective educators is even more important, so that our children are developing those foundational skills needed to move through their educational experiences and into the career field of their choice, and be ready to take on the day.”

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.