The Haves and Have Nots: How Do We Achieve Higher Education for Our Workforce?

higher educationThere is a chasm in our early childhood education workforce in South Dakota. We have professionals who have achieved higher degrees on one side, and at the other end we have child care providers in the classroom with little to no education, and sometimes even limited experience working with children.

Right now the standard is supposed to be the CDA credential.  According to the CDA Council, “The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential™ is the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education (ECE) and is a key stepping stone on the path of career advancement in ECE.”  You can find out more about the CDA program by clicking here, or by revisiting my podcast with Kim Booth.  In the state of South Dakota, the CDA credential is only required for the program director, and anyone who oversees curriculum planning.


For those with little to no experience, we have a good action plan.  The CDA coursework is offered in a variety of ways, either through your local Early Childhood Enrichment office or there are several online courses available.  One of the main reasons the CDA program was created was to be able to offer higher education opportunities for a huge workforce that very frequently needs flexibility in coursework.  The CDA credential however, receives very little credibility in the academic environment in South Dakota, even though it is recognized nationally as a standard for educating the early childhood education workforce.

I believe in the importance of the CDA program.  In providing further education opportunities for my own staff, I wanted to examine the options available for those with the CDA credential in our state. I focused on those who want their primary area of study to remain early childhood education.

When you enter the CDA  program, you are told that there is an opportunity to translate a portion of your CDA into college credits, which can then be applied to a higher degree.  In South Dakota, this involves more coursework through Sanford Health.  These additional courses can be completed online (good news for everyone in South Dakota).  For more information about that program you can contact Rhonda Swanson with Sanford Health or visit their website here.

Things start to get tricky if you want to translate your CDA into college credits.  While there are articulation agreements with BHSU, SDSU, South East Tech, and Oglala Lakota College there are technicalities.

  1.  SDSU is the only university that offers an Early Childhood Education Undergraduate Degree in our state. SDSU also requires attendance on campus in Brookings, not possible for many to achieve.
  2. South East Tech offers an Early Childhood Specialist Associates Degree. This also requires on site attendance in Sioux Falls. Students can apply credits to the University of Sioux Falls, again not for early childhood education, but for elementary education. They can also opt to apply credits at Bellevue University in Nebraska for a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Program Management (what a great course, why isn’t this being offered ANYWHERE in South Dakota?)  Something else to note, is that NOT ALL South Dakota universities will translate credits earned through an associates degree at South East Tech.  You may end up spending a lot of time and thousands of dollars on something that wouldn’t count if you pursue a bachelor’s, so you must double check with the individual university.
  3. BHSU and Oglala Lakota College only offer K-8 or K-12 degrees.
  4. USD, though not part of the articulation program at all, only offers a Graduate Degree in Early Childhood Education.

So where does the early childhood educator go from here?  They can apply CDA credits to a K-8 or K-12 teaching degree, although for those in rural areas may still require travel to Rapid City, Spearfish, Kyle, Sioux Falls or Brookings for a portion of coursework.  Something that seems to be overlooked, if your focus is working with children prior to entering kindergarten, a K-8 or K-12 teaching degree seems inappropriate. The area of study is for children who are older than pre-k.  Additionally, few teachers who have elementary teaching degrees are willing to take the pay cut to work with preschoolers.  We’re talking a difference of $20,000 annually in our state.

It’s 2016, so we do have more options than ever for online learning.  Some progressive centers in Rapid City have encouraged their staff to pursue an Early Childhood Education Associate Degrees through an online course such as Penn Foster or a Bachelor’s Degree for Early Childhood Education through University of Phoenix.  These programs are flexible and provide higher education opportunities in our field of study however there is a stigma attached to online universities and colleges in our state.  The University of Phoenix Bachelor degree program is only approved for teaching certificates in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.  South Dakota is not on this list, even though our education opportunities for early childhood educators are so limited.

There are clear issues here.  We want an experienced and educated workforce but our state does not provide the environment for growth.  A supportive academic atmosphere needs to be created, attainable and fair standards need to be developed, and opportunities need to be provided.  We have a tremendous possibility to strengthen and stabilize an entire workforce, thousands of men and women in our population, and it is being completely ignored.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation.  Curious how you can establish change?  Remember the ABCs

Advocate for early childhood education and educators.  Talk to friends, family, business owners and government officials.

Be aware of what is going on and how it affects educators, the community, and the children in our child care system.

Change only happens because someone started it.  If no one tries to change the way things are, then things will never change.  To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, “An object at rest stays at rest.  An object in motion stays in motion!”

Addressing the Myths of Early Childhood Education

early educator meme

There are many different types of early childhood education. Whether education is being provided at an in home family daycare, daycare center, preschool, or Head Start, all of these programs fill an important niche in our communities.  Someone phrased it to me very well the other day, “If you guys (child care providers) don’t do well at your job, none of us can do well at ours.”  Essentially, if early childhood educators don’t provide quality and sustainability for our families, then the entire workforce breaks down.  That seems pretty important!


As early childhood education supporters, it is important for us to look at ways we can address the myths surrounding early childhood education.  The following are some of the most common myths, and how they can be addressed.

The myth of the babysitter

Playing with children all day, resting during naptime.  Watching lots of tv.  What a great way to spend your adulthood! These are pretty common misconceptions regarding a daycare provider (particularly if you work out of your home).  We don’t sit on babies (they’re little, and they don’t like it).  The demands put upon the in-home family daycare provider are probably the highest in the early education field. While we’ve all heard the horror stories of a chain smoking negligent in home “daycare lady”, there needs to be a clear line drawn.  Quality in home providers can facilitate one of the best environments for children.  If you are an in home provider live up to the high standards.  Register with the state, attend trainings, have support providers so you don’t burn out, and be proud of your profession.  If you aren’t an in home provider, find out about the good ones and support them in their career.

The myth of the babystealer

I was visiting with another center director about a month ago. She voiced that one of the challenges she faces from her community are the stay at home moms who are disdainful toward a business that is focused around enabling mothers to return to work and “abandon” their babies.  I wish I was making this up. We don’t steal babies.  We acknowledge that the ability to stay home with their children is a wonderful choice that many people make.  We also acknowledge that it is not the choice that many wish to make or are able to (South Dakota being in the top rankings in the nation for single parent households AND dual income households).  That is where quality, caring professionals come in to fill a societal need. P.S. Refer to my previous blog regarding The Myth of the Money Making Preschool if you think we’re stealing babies as part of a plan to become millionaires.

The myth of the over educator

There is a lot of buzz about whether or not preschool education pushes too much too soon.  Parents can be hesitant to enroll their children in preschool because they want their children to have more time to just be kids, or the parents themselves were never in preschool, or because the parents disliked school in general.  If a family needs care, then a program that offers preschool can be a wonderful addition to their child’s early years.  The main objectives in preschool are generally not academic goals, but social goals.  Preschool serves as an intermediary between the family home and the public or private school system. It prepares children for a more structured environment and enables them to interact with their peers, both of which are important skills for success in kindergarten.  A good preschool environment will be balanced, anything that is high pressure in not conducive for early learning.

The myth of the under educator

Children learn very effectively during play.  Play is recognized as a viable teaching tool with proper implementation.  Learning during play takes a lot of planning on the part of the early childhood educator, and can involve a lot of interaction and/or observation when it is taking place.  Learning through play does not grant the educator the ability to sit back and do nothing as students simply “play.”  It is important to be aware if an educator is using the play based method correctly.  For more information about learning through play, look at Let Them Play: An Early Learning (Un)Curriculum by Denita Dinger and Jeff Johnson.


It is important to be aware of the myths surrounding early childhood education, and to be prepared to dispel them.  While the first facility providing full day nursery school in the United States was founded in Boston in 1838, we are still navigating a field where acceptance is relatively new and standards are rapidly changing and improving.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation!  I encourage you to share what you read, and be sure to follow to receive my free eBook and weekly blog reminders in your inbox!  I particularly love the “play” illustration.  I received it during CDA training and can’t credit its original source, but it is one of my favorites!


“Aren’t You Afraid Someone Will Get Mad?” The Green Eyed Monster Side to Early Education

green eyes

Aren’t you afraid someone will get mad?

I’m asked this question more often then I would like to admit.

It’s not because I am trying to provoke anyone.  Generally I am baffled by this question because it emerges from something I am doing with good intentions.

For example, I created an award this year to recognize the Rapid City Early Childhood Educator of the Year.  I formed the committee, found the sponsors,  tracked down qualified judges, organized nominations, all the way down to picking up the plaque from the awards shop.  I created this award for a few reasons, but primarily because I feel it is important that our community recognize the contribution of early childhood educators.

After the award was presented, I was attending an early childhood education conference.  A woman approached me and our conversation went something like this:

Her: “I think it’s so great that you created that award, but aren’t you afraid someone will get mad?”

Me: “I didn’t look at it from that perspective, who do you feel would get mad?”

Her: “Oh I don’t know.  Someone who didn’t win.  There are so many good providers that you don’t think it might make people jealous?”

Hmm.  Though not my philosophy, she makes a good point about perspective.  In an already disconnected and divided early childhood education environment, had I exacerbated the situation by singling out stellar educators?

Jealousy can be toxic in any environment.  In the business world, healthy competition is good.  If  the standard is raised for the teachers and centers around you, it doesn’t edge out the quality ones, it edges out the poor quality ones.

I had some staff in a tither about a year ago because a new center had opened in our area.  They were concerned that because it was a large center it would affect our business.  My response to that is if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing (running a high quality child care) then we have nothing to worry about.  If we aren’t doing that, then we have much bigger problems then someone else opening a center.  The BEST case scenario is that this center will add another quality program to our community, and we can celebrate another step to improving the standard of care for our city.

Jealousy can also be a positive.  If you are feeling envy, then that may give you solid indicators of what goals you want to set for yourself for improvement.  Not that I’m encouraging you to turn to the “dark side” and use the power of your anger to improve.  Allow yourself to feel the initial emotion, take a look at where it’s coming from, and come up with a positive plan for where you can progress.  If it’s a jealousy issue with an instructor you work with, how can you put yourself on an achievement plan similar to theirs?  Maybe it’s time to upgrade that CDA to an associate’s degree.  Perhaps you can look at some new emerging teaching techniques you want to try in your classroom.  If you have a center, maybe it’s time to shake up your program, or implement that creative new idea you’ve been too afraid to try.  After you create a positive action plan, let go of the bad karma.  Take a deep breath in, wish the object of your jealousy well, exhale, and let it go.

Support the professionalism of early childhood educators.  One of my biggest subjects I push is the advocacy for the professionalism of early childhood educators.  Part of that professionalism is demonstrating civility toward one another, and celebrating the successes of our peers.  An industry devoid of peer support is not a professional one.  We can’t be in competition with each other, either as individual teachers or as centers.  We have to be in competition with ourselves.  The universe will sort out the rest.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation!  I encourage you to share what you read, and be sure to follow to receive my free eBook and weekly blog reminders in your inbox!

Part Four: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Words from an Expert

dsslogoFor the final installment of my four part series on universal preschool, I visited with Patricia Monson, Division Director for the South Dakota Division of Child Care Services
The Division of Child Care Services provides assistance to low-income families who need help with child care costs while parents work or attend school. They also provide oversight, technical assistance and support in promoting safe, healthy and caring environments for children through licensing, registration and quality improvement activities.

The questions listed below are based on the assumption that further execution of President Obama’s Early Education for All initiative from his 2013 State of the Union Address will continue to be implemented.  It is also important to note that Hilary Clinton’s platform includes a ten year universal preschool plan.  I was able to visit with Patricia Monson, the Division Director for the South Dakota Department of Child Care Services about her predictions for universal pre-k for the state of South Dakota.

Hi Patricia, I have a few questions regarding the possible implementation of universal preschool in South Dakota.  I wanted to know if there has been any discussion from the licensing office of how this might be implemented.  I understand that a formal plan probably has not been created, and so many of your answers may be predictions on what you feel will be likely given your knowledge and experience of South Dakota child care licensing. I realize that some of your answers may be conjecture, or maybe there has been some preliminary discussion going on at the state level that you wouldn’t mind sharing.

  1. Do you see universal preschool being implemented in South Dakota in the near future? If so, what is the timeline? (5 years, 10 years?) 

Patricia: I don’t have any indication that universal preschool will be implemented in the near future in South Dakota.

  1. If South Dakota decides (or is mandated by the government) to implement universal preschool, do you think current child care providers will have input on new legislation? 

Patricia: As with any new legislation, the public always has opportunities for input.

  1. Because you are so familiar with the way new legislation is implemented in South Dakota, in your opinion do you think our state will adopt a grandfathering in of CDA certified teachers to continue teaching, or do you think South Dakota will push for lead teachers to be certified and hold bachelor’s degrees?

Patricia: This would depend on how the legislation was written and would be an area where you would want to provide input, if it is a concern.

4. Any additional comments?

Patricia: It seems most of the initiatives regarding preschool have been at the local level, such as the Starting Strong program in Rapid City.  I have not heard anything regarding universal pre-k legislation for South Dakota.

I really appreciate Patricia taking the time to share her knowledge of what is going on in the Child Care Services Office in South Dakota.  I do want to stress the importance of awareness for those in our field.  Our local ECE offices and the licensing agencies always get information out to us when new legislation is being considered.  It is vitally important to take part in the webinars, the round table discussions, and to be aware of what is being considered in Pierre.  Form an opinion, share it with others, and most importantly vote!

As always, thank you for reading Education Plantation.  I hope you will take the information provided here to your staff, your community, and your professional organizations.  We all have to be advocates for early childhood education.

If you wish you can leave a comment here or email me at We need to communicate and give feedback on what is practical for our state.

Part One: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Examining School Districts

Part Two: The Cost of Universal Preschool, What Works, and What Doesn’t

Part Three: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Implications of Implementation

Part Four: The Cost of Universal Preschool, Words from an Expert