Music to My Ears: Improving Early Education in Jackson County

Mayor Sly James singing during this year's State of the City address was the highlight for many, but for me, it was his time spent on education in Kansas City that was music to my ears.

Staffing of color: 11% school-based programs, 43% center-based programs, 68% home-based programsHis comments took my mind to results of the Greater Kansas City Early Care and Education Study: Jackson County. Here are three topics that the mayor discussed that can also be applied to early learning, relating to points that stood out to me from the report released in late 2015.

In the minority

Just as with K-12, early educators in Jackson County school-based programs do not reflect the high proportion of children of color enrolled—only 11 percent of teachers within these programs surveyed identify as a person of color. Centers and home-based programs employed markedly higher percentages of staff members of color, but since research tells us that students benefit from having teachers who share their racial identity, how can we ensure a diverse set of teachers are accessing these jobs at the same rate?

Where to begin? Recruitment. The Mayor applauded the Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR) for making it a priority to recruit a diverse body of teachers. KCTR focuses on K-12, but an effort to recruit teachers of color to school-based early education programs must be a priority for Kansas City as well.

Only 24 accredited early education programs in Kansas city, moLack of accreditation

There are only 24 accredited early childhood programs in Kansas City, Missouri.* This means that the vast majority of children enrolled in early care and education, regardless of family income, are not attending accredited programs.

A step in the right direction? Pilot program. A proposed bill establishing an early learning quality assurance report pilot program in Missouri—if passed—may present an opportunity for programs to work toward and receive support in gaining accreditation. Voluntary participation in this pilot could allow early learning providers to access resources and training to improve, similar to the Quality Rating and Improvement System in Colorado.

*Number is based on centers accredited through Missouri Accreditation Programs for Children and Youth (MOA), National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) in March 2016.

Teacher development and turnover

17% of home- and center-based programs do professional development and training with neighborhood schools, compared to 71% of school-based programs

According to the study, teacher turnover rates in early education centers were more than three times the school rate. Also, educators in centers and homes reported that only 17 percent participated in joint training with neighborhood schools—that’s compared to 71 percent of school-based programs.

A suggested approach? Develop and competitively compensate. To retain quality early educators, professional development and competitive wages are a must. Efforts such as the “Professional Development for All” series launched in Omaha, Nebraska, this school year and the Every Student Succeeds Act allow professional development to be made accessible to teachers, caregivers and early childhood professionals across school, center and home programs. Yet, even with all the professional development in the world, if we can’t compensate teachers with a competitive wage, they will not be incentivized to pursue higher qualifications and stay in our early education classrooms.

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Halley French

Halley French is a program officer in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where she supports education-focused initiatives through program development, project management, building relationships, and conducting research. She contributes to all areas of education programming and grantmaking.