For 11 years, Stephanie Diehl has enjoyed a successful career as an early childhood educator. She's worked her way up to become director of an early childhood center in Northwest Illinois that's gold level-rated, the state's highest certification of quality.
But Diehl, like many early educators throughout the country, doesn't have a bachelor's degree in early learning.
With today's push to increase the quality of early education while also serving more students than ever before, that poses a problem. To maintain the center's gold rating, Diehl and her fellow preschool teachers must earn their bachelor's degrees in early education even while they continue working full-time.
"It's really difficult to get away," Diehl said, "but we know the importance of having highly qualified teachers for our youngest students."
That's where EarlyEdU comes in.
Created to help early childhood teachers get the education they need, EarlyEdU offers colleges and universities a complete suite of courses in early childhood education. The courses, developed by leading experts in early childhood education from the University of Washington and other institutions, are relevant, accessible and engaging to current and aspiring teachers.
"Research shows that high-quality early learning programs—from Head Start to state-funded preschools to private programs—are essential to preparing children for success in school and life," said Gail Joseph, a University of Washington College of Education professor who is the founding director of EarlyEdU. "But good schools need good teachers, who understand child development and know how to engage young children in learning at every opportunity."
EarlyEdU is being piloted at more than 25 institutions across the country this spring, with the intention to scale up over time. Randi Shapiro, executive director of EarlyEdU, noted that EarlyEdU is especially committed to providing courses through institutions historically serving black, tribal and Hispanic communities.
"Accessibility and affordability are challenges we feel EarlyEdU can help with so that we prepare more early childhood teachers who reflect the populations they're serving," Shapiro said.
Students who take EarlyEdU courses also have access to an innovative video-sharing platform called the Coaching Companion. With the Coaching Companion, college faculty and their students can view, comment on, and learn from real-life preschool classroom situations.
Diehl said the EarlyEdU course she's taken on engaging interactions and environments deepened her understanding of the role of learning and play in early childhood.
"I've shared a lot of what I learned with my group of teachers," Diehl said. "It's very pertinent coursework for someone coming into the field but also for someone like myself who's been in the field."
Diehl noted EarlyEdU videos in particular were very useful.
"The videos were very hands on, they had a lot of practices that you can use right away and I would share tidbits of those videos with my teachers," Diehl said.
Currently only about a third of preschool teachers in the U.S. have a bachelor's degree in early education, even as states up requirements for their early childhood workforce.
By offering an entire suite of online courses, co-primary investigator and UW education professor Susan Sandall said EarlyEdU helps individual colleges and universities use their resources more efficiently in meeting the demands to prepare more highly-qualified early childhood teachers.
"Workforce development is really key," Sandall said. "Through EarlyEdU, we want to help our early educators earn degrees that are relevant to the work that they’re doing and help all children receive an excellent education in their earliest years."
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications