Kids’NCare

A Yardstick of Quality
The best day care programs far exceed
state standards for staff training.

by Sharon Easterling

For working parents, safe and supportive child care where children grow and learn provides peace of mind that is well worth the cost. With the majority of preschoolers now cared for outside the home, the search for good child care is an important issue for many families.

The key ingredient for quality programs is staff. Teachers who are well trained and find joy in the company of young children will likely be excellent early childhood teachers. The lack of public funding for child care translates into low teacher salaries — creating staffing challenges. But with some due diligence, parents can discover the treasure of a good early learning program.

Standards, by State
Teacher credentials and ongoing professional development are key components of all quality standards and at the heart of good teaching practice. Here is a state-by-state summary of training standards.

Pennsylvania: The minimum annual training requirement for child care providers is 6 clock hours. However, many programs meet the higher standards of the new voluntary quality initiative, Keystone Stars. At the highest level, Star 4, teachers must receive 24 hours of professional development annually.

Pennsylvania’s early childhood teachers are required to keep a Professional Development Record (PDR), which tracks training experiences and helps teachers identify gaps in their professional development. In good programs, teachers meet regularly with their directors to review the PDR and to develop a professional development plan.

New Jersey: Basic standards require 20 clock hours annually for head teachers and eight clock hours for support staff. New Jersey’s system also stipulates that annual professional development must include each of three critical areas: child growth and development, classroom management, and health and safety.

Of course, the best programs typically go above and beyond the minimum requirements for staff training. At Congregation M’kor Shalom’s early childhood program in Cherry Hill, NJ, director Lynne Rednick requires all staff to have training in first aid and CPR — far exceeding the licensing requirement that at least one person on site must be trained in these skills.

Delaware: Licensed child care programs must provide 18 clock hours of annual staff training. Delaware was one of the first states to recognize the importance of a highly skilled early childhood workforce, launching a comprehensive Career Development Initiative in 1989 called Delaware First.

This initiative addresses the shortage of qualified child care staff by developing new training re-sources, including a comprehensive, entry level credential, and increasing financial support to improve access for students.

Karen Rucker, director of the University of Delaware’s Early Learning Program, is passionate about how closely staff development is linked to program quality. Rucker asks her parents, “Would you want to go to a doctor who didn’t have ongoing training on the latest techniques and research? Of course not! Recent brain research confirms the critical role of these early years. We are learning new things every day about how children learn, and staff needs to stay on top of this information.”

Rucker’s staff typically receives 30-50 hours of professional development each year, including two full staff development days when the program closes to families.

Accreditation and Training
Two of the most widely accepted quality assurance systems are accreditation through the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC) for home-based child care programs and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for center-based child care.

Rather than requiring a specified number of hours of professional development, accreditation standards mandate comprehensive, ongoing staff development that is based on an annual assessment of each staff member and careful planning.

Children’s Village Child Care Center in center city Philadelphia has been NAEYC-accredited for more than 10 years. Executive Director Mary Graham invests significant time and resources in professional development for her staff. Even though her staff members have excellent credentials and years of experience, they regularly participate in professional development opportunities.

Several of her staff recently attended training on emergent literacy, honing their skills in creating environments that lay a strong foundation for building good readers. According to Graham, “Staff members who make the most of professional development opportunities are those who never really master it, but understand that good practice is always evolving.”

M’Kor Shalom’s Lynn Rednik shares this sentiment. Her challenge is finding new ways to inspire her long term staff, most of whom have been at the program for more than 10 years. Rednik says, “Professional development keeps my staff fresh and creative; it inspires us to try new things and to continue learning.”

Sharon Easterling is Executive Director of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, a non-profit early childhood professional association affiliated with the NAEYC.

DVAEYC Conference March 16-17

The region’s largest professional development event for early childhood educators and parents of young children will be held March 16-17, 2007, at the PA Convention Center, Philadelphia.

Early Childhood Conference: Ideas to Grow On is sponsored by the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) and supported by PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great Initiative. The conference features presenters widely recognized as experts in their field. The March 17 keynote speaker, Patricia Wilpfer, founder of the Parent Leadership Institute, will discuss Raising Emotionally Healthy Children.

Workshops, musical presentations and an exhibit hall with more than 100 resource tables and education vendors make this event informative for both parents and teachers. For more info or to register, contact DVAEYC at 215-963-0094 or visit www.dvaeyc.org