To drive quality early care and education, racial equity among professionals requires attention

Aisha Ray, M.Ed '72

Aisha Ray, M.Ed ’72

Transforming the early childhood workforce to ensure children receive high quality care and education requires a focus on increasing racial equity and diversity among professionals in the field.

“In the early childhood field, we have argued that culture matters in teaching, and research has supported this,” said Aisha Ray, M.Ed. ’72, professor emeritus at Erikson Institute and former senior vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of faculty. “But we still need to do more to ensure that we are able to attract and retain teachers whose racial, cultural, and language backgrounds resemble that of the children they serve.”

Dr. Ray addressed the need for a focus on racial equity and diversity among early childhood professionals in April during the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® and Child Care WAGE$® 2016 National Professional Development Symposium in Chapel Hill, N.C., where she delivered the keynote speech. T.E.A.C.H. and its companion project WAGE$ are nonprofits active in more than 20 states that focus on strengthening the early childhood workforce by addressing issues of professional development and compensation.

The student population in U.S. schools is increasingly racially, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse, while the early childhood workforce from preschool to graduate school is predominately white, female, and monolingual, Dr. Ray said. Teachers of all races and cultural backgrounds can be effective, but studies show that students benefit from more diversity among educators. She cited new National Education Association research findings that indicate children of color achieve greater academic success when they have teachers that look like them and understand the issues in their communities that impact development and academic achievement.

“Presently, half of children younger than 5 are children of color, and they are driving a significant demographic change that, in 20 years, will transform the nation,” Dr. Ray said. “We need to be responsive to that trend as we build our workforce.”

Bilingual education also is becoming essential for students growing up speaking more than one language and for all children. Research indicates that speaking multiple languages aids in children’s cognitive and social development. However, most teachers, program directors, and those who prepare the workforce are monolingual and have limited understanding of bilingual development and educational programming, Dr. Ray said.

Workforce transformation must address four key issues: Adequate compensation and working conditions; a robust career lattice that supports professional growth and advancement; high quality programs that are intellectually demanding and engaging; and well trained, competent staff at all levels who are racially, linguistically, and culturally diverse and able to provide high quality early childhood experiences for children and families, Dr. Ray said.

She noted that more organizations must follow the lead of T.E.A.C.H. and other groups that are focused on strengthening early care and education through intentionally attending to racial equity and diversity in workforce improvement.