A hopeful initiative has, however, recently emerged. Beginning in 2017, NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children), the leading professional association for those engaged in the work of ECE, made a significant investment in achieving this goal. This initiative, titled Power to the Profession and carried out by a task force representing 15 national ECE-related organizations created a Unifying Framework for the Early Childhood Education Profession. According to the Power to the Profession Task Force (n.d.), the framework is designed to “…set a vision for how to drive the significant and sustained public investment that will allow all children, birth through age 8, to benefit from high-quality early childhood education provided by well-prepared, diverse, supported and compensated professionals” (para. 3). The title of the framework, including the term profession, as well as the focus on preparation and support of the professionals illustrate the focus of moving ECE to this status, while also recognizing the need for public funding to achieve this long-standing goal.
Power to the Profession was a multi-year process that involved 8 “decision cycles” in which decisions on the defining issues of the field were presented to stakeholders for feedback. At each cycle, practitioners in the field responded in writing to the proposal, engaged in focus groups, and other means of providing feedback. After this process, each proposal was revised and ultimately finalized. In March of 2020, the results of the 8 decision cycles were presented in the Unifying Framework for the Early Childhood Education Profession. The recommendations in the framework are summarized in the table found in the appendix to this chapter. In addition to summarizing the recommendations, the table includes how they address the 8 criteria of a profession identified earlier in in this chapter.
The recommendations that make up the Framework are notable in their effort to address at one time as many of the issues facing ECE as possible.
Naming and Defining the Profession
The first issue addressed by the Task Force was what to call the profession. This is a long existent problem with ECE (which you will note we have been calling early childhood education all along—but many do not accept this and use other names such as early care and education or early learning, and so on). The difficulty was not just about agreeing to a single name but determining which practitioners working with young children were part of the profession. A long-held aversion to exclusion has made it difficult to draw a boundary around who is “in” and who is “out” of the profession. But this decision is necessary to define a field as a profession. After much deliberation, the Task Force chose to call the profession Early Childhood Education and the professionals are called Early Childhood Educators. Further, a boundary between the profession and the larger field of early childhood was drawn, delineating the professionals from other allied practitioners who, while still engaged in work that support children and families, are not early childhood educators and not part of the profession.
Image 2.3 presents the illustration from the Unifying Framework (Power to the Profession Task Force, 2020) that depicts the relationship between the field of ECE--everything outside of the profession–and the profession designated by the orange section at the top of the circle. The profession as proposed, includes three roles:
Early Childhood Educators who provide direct service to children birth to age 8 and on whom the Unifying Framework is largely focused
Professional Preparation Faculty and Trainers who instruct, observe, and monitor the practice of aspiring ECEs
Pedagogical and Instructional Administrators who guide the practice of ECEs
In addition to defining the profession and the professionals, the Framework identifies three designations of early childhood educators (Early Childhood Educator I, II and III) as presented in Table 2. Creating these designations addresses a confusing jumble of titles and roles in the current field, creating a uniform approach to defining responsibilities (scope of practice) and preparation. The Task Force also recognized the current reality that the scope of practice attached to a specific level of professional preparation differs by setting. For example, in Birth to age 5 settings, a practitioner with an associate degree may hold the position of lead teacher in a classroom. That same level of education would commonly be tied to an assistant teacher position in a K-Grade 3 setting.
Table 2 Designations of ECEs proposed in Unifying Framework
Scope of Practice—Role in Development and Delivery of Educational Programming
120 clock hours of professional preparation
Guide ECE I’s
Guide ECE I’s
ECE Associate Degree
Guide ECE I’s and II’s
ECE Bachelor’s Degree
ECE Master’s Degree
Defined Professional Standards and Professional Preparation Delivery
The Unifying Framework (Power to the Profession Task Force, 2020) also addressed the need for a unified system of professional preparation for EC Educators. The Framework recognizes the role of higher education in professions, both in informing the content of professional preparation, and delivering high quality preparation that successfully graduates competent professionals. The Task Force selected the updated and revised NAEYC Professional Standards and Competencies as the standards for professional preparation. Given that a profession is defined partially by the existence of standards for practice set and defined by the profession, choosing standards developed by NAEYC rather than a state licensing entity is appropriate. These revised standards were released at the same time as the Unifying Framework and include a “leveling” of the standards, further illuminating the distinction between the 3 designations. This “leveling” guides professional preparation programs to pitch the content of coursework appropriately to the different designations and further underscores the differences in scope of practice. To some extent, this approach was used to address the current reality that many practitioners have worked in the field for many years with no college coursework and are not willing to undertake a college education but wish to remain employed in the newly named profession. These designations recognize the contribution of all professionals regardless of scope of practice. The Framework additionally recommends that all early childhood educators must first complete a general early childhood education program before specializing in, for example, a focus on an age group such as preschool or toddler aged children.
In addition to adopting professional preparation standards, the Framework calls on institutions of higher education to be accountable through accreditation by a governing body to ensure delivery of competently prepared early childhood educators. Moreover, the Framework calls on higher education to work to ensure seamless transition across educational systems, access to higher education by an ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse population and diversity in faculty that prepare early childhood educators.
Finally, the framework recommends that once all the requirements just described are in place (i.e., higher education access to all who seek it, effective higher education that produces competent educators, utilizing a uniform set of standards) then early childhood educators should be licensed upon completion of a program of professional preparation.
The Framework also addressed the requirement for increased compensation for the current and future ECE professionals. Using public school salary scales as a minimum benchmark for comparable compensation is recommended. That is, assuming comparable qualifications, experience and job responsibilities, the compensation for an Early Childhood Educator should be comparable regardless of setting (i.e. private childcare, state funded preschool, public school kindergarten). The Framework also calls out the importance of a benefits package for all EC educators regardless of setting. The Task Force was clear that without increased compensation as described above, the other requirements outlined for early childhood educators in the Framework could not be instituted. In other words, any increase in education or responsibility resulting from the Unifying Framework would necessitate a matched increase in salary. The Task Force also recognized that employers that hire Early Childhood Educators should be accountable for providing comparable compensation (salary and benefits). The Task Force indicates that such accountability would be impossible without a financial investment from the federal government, which requires a recognition of ECE as a public good that serves all society.
Purpose of the Unifying Framework
As described here, the point of developing the Unifying Framework was to address the issues that have kept Early Childhood Education for claiming its status as a true profession. By formalizing ECE as a profession, those who do this work will be well-prepared and well-compensated, finally receiving the status and recognition they have long deserved. While this is accurate, it does not explain why doing so is important.
Those who have argued for defining ECE as a profession have claimed effectively that the well-being of children is what is at stake. If ECE remains a fragmented, unrecognized, under-compensated occupation, many children will not have access to the early education that research has consistently shown improves each child’s developmental and learning outcomes. NAEYC, the association that originally called the 15 representative entities that made up the Task Force has a vision. This vision, sometimes called an audacious one, is to unify as a profession to argue for ECE as a public good which should be supported by our tax dollars. The goal of these efforts is to ultimately have ECE be recognized as a profession so that those that do that work are well-prepared, well-compensated and supported so that the children who receive their efforts will be set on a positive trajectory for their futures.
Review the summary of the recommendations made in the Unifying Framework (found in the appendix to this chapter). What seems most beneficial about these recommendations? What will be hardest to implement, in your opinion? How would implementation of these recommendations affect your current work in ECE? Is the Unifying Framework going to improve the lives of early childhood educators? The children they serve?